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Uways and his significance

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- exploring the importance to both Shias and Sufis of Uways Al Qarni, and of the Uwaysi transmission in Sufism ]

Uways, the destruction of whose shrine I described today in the first of two posts, was the man to whom the Prophet Muhammad entrusted his cloak on his death (a potent symbol ineed), a prototypical Muslim mystic, an early Muslim martyr who never physically met the Prophet — and the saint who gives his name to the Uwaysis, those Sufis who receive spiritual insight not from a living master but through a spiritual transmission from beyond…

Beyond what I can easily tell you, but where beyond is not for me to say…

Diving right in, then, here are two substantial gobbets from Patrick Laude‘s Malâmiyyah Psycho-Spiritual Therapy can also be found — in the same words, I think — in his book, Divine Play, Sacred Laughter, and Spiritual Understanding. Laude is currently Professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar:

The figure of Uways Qarani is most representative in this respect. Farid al-Din ‘Attar tells us about him: “during his life in this world, he (Uways) was hiding from all in order to devote himself to acts of worship and obedience” (‘Attar 1976, p. 2). ‘Attar also relates that the Prophet had declared at the time of his death that his robe should be given to Uways, a man he had never met in this life. When ‘Umar looked for Uways during his stay in Kufa, he asked a native of Qarn (the home town of Uways) and was answered “there was one such man, but he was a madman, a senseless person who because of his madness does not live among his fellow countrymen (…) He does not mingle with anybody and does not eat nor drink anything that others drink and eat. He does not know sadness nor joy; when others laugh, he weeps, and when they weep, he laughs” (ibid., p. 29). We can already perceive here, in the case of an early mystic like Uways, the dual, and seemingly contradictory, spiritual vocation of ‘obscurity’ and ‘eccentricity.’ The unassuming figure of Uways is, at the same time, blatantly discordant in the social context. This discordant status that is often referred to as ‘madness’ is the mark of the irruption of a transcendent, vertical perspective within the world of terrestrial horizontality. It is akin to a negation of the negation: the Spirit ‘negates’ the distorted notions of the soul, the biases and comforts. When Uways finally meets with ‘Umar, he tells him that it would be better for him that “nobody (but God) would know him and had knowledge of who he was.” To remain incognito can be considered as the leaven of malamiyyah spirituality.

and in his footnotes:

In his Kitub ‘Uqala’ al-majanin, an-Naysaburi ranks Uways among four of the best-known “wise fools” with Majnun, Sa’dun and Buhlul. Cf. Dols, p.355.

Uways is also, and quite tellingly, the ‘patron’ of Sufis who do not have a living master: “The Sufi tradition has distinguished a special group of seekers: those whose sole link with the teaching is through Khidr himself. There are those rare Sufis who do not have a teacher in the flesh. (…) They have been given a special name: uwaysiyyun.” Sara Sviri (1997) p.98.

It is interesting to note that Uways Qarani is both a norm and a shocking exception in the world of early Islam. He is a shocking exception in so far as his asocial perspective and ascetic disposition took him away from the communal establishment of the ummah that is, in a sense, the very identity of Islam. Still, at the same time, Uways al-Qarani is referred to in at least two ahadith that make of him the spiritual pole of the community. Two interesting facts must be commented upon in this context: first, the Prophet declared that on the Day of Judgment and later in Paradise, God will give the form of Uways to 70,000 angels so that nobody could know, even in the thereafter, who is the actual Uways. This hyperbolic and symbolic manifestation of anonymity is quite suggestive of the principle of ‘invisibility’ that presides over the malamiyyah way. Secondly, when referring to Uways in connection with ‘Umar, ‘Attar carefully avoids any expression that would seem to give precedence to Uways over ‘Umar: “You should know that Uways al- Qarani was not superior to ‘Umar, but that he was a man of detachment vis-a-vis things of this world. ‘Umar, as for him, was an accomplished perfection in all his works.” (op.cit. p.31) ‘Umar’s perfection is defined in terms of presence and action in the world of men, whereas Uways’ perfection is understood in terms of separation from the world. Given its emphasis on equilibrium between the two worlds, Islam cannot extol Uways’ virtues to the point of “otherworldliness.” Moreover, the Prophet’s robe is no doubt a different kind of investiture than the line of succession in the khilafat: it points to a spiritual authority like the khirka (cloak) of the Sufi Shaykh; but this type of investiture and eminence must remain hidden.

This ‘madness’ is also related to the function of the American Indian ‘contrary’, Sioux heyokao or Hopi kochare, or the “grey one” of the Apaches, who embodies the apparently senseless reversal of terrestrial and social norms of behavior.


Thyere’s a lot packed into these two chunks of Laude’s — poetry, legend, hagiography, insight — and I’ve quoted them in extenso because they save me quoting shorter extracts from half a dozen other sources [ eg: 1, 2, 3, 4 ].

For a more detailed understanding, I should probably finesse my way to a copy of Julian Baldick‘s Imaginary Muslims: The Uwaysi Mystics of Central Asia.


A wise fool, then, in that global tradition of sacred folly which extends from Shakespeare‘s Lear’s Fool via Chuang Tzu to the Koshare of the Hopi rituals — and to the Sufis, a wali, a friend of the Beloved.


The Bosching of John Hagee and the reddening of the moon

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in mental preparation for tonight's lunar eclipse, together with some quick eschatology, plenty of blood, and an Incan jaguar ]

The upper panel, above, shows a detail of Hieronymus Bosch‘s Ghent representation of Christ carrying the Cross to his crucifixion, the focus here being on three of Bosch’s contemporaries depicted as citizens of Christ’s Jerusalem, mocking Christ as he moves through the crowd…

… while the lower panel has substituted for one of them the face of John Hagee, televangelist, senior pastor of the Cornerstone megahurch in San Antonio, TX, and (eventually disowned) endorser of Sen. John McCain‘s 2008 presidential bid.


Hagee is in the news at the moment as a major promoter of the “Four Blood Moons” end times theory, according to which tonight will witness the first of four total lunar eclipses announcing — like four dots the style-books suggest when an ellipsis follows a period — the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord referred to in Joel 2.31:

Hre is Hagee, interviewed on this subject:


There are numerous biblical references to Joel 2.31:

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

I shall not list all of them, but have selected those which most closely address the topic at hand.

Luke 21:25 picks up the theme:

And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

And in Acts 2:20, the same author specifies these signs:

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:

Unsurprisingly, the Revelation of John, 6:12 locates the blood moon in the sequence of Seven Seals that David Koresh was so concerned with…

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

And lest there be any doubt, Joel himself in the same chapter at 2:11 makes it clear that the Great and Terrible Day will in fact be both Great and Terrible…

And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?


It is something of a relief, then, to turn to NASA, where “signs in the skies” are considered more as opportunities for star-gazing than as precursors of Doom.

These things happen, NASA might say — tongue in cheek, perhaps — once in a blue moon


NASA’s eclipse website draws its data from Goddard astrophysicist Fred Espenak, whose “Mr Eclipse” website offers the following diagram of tonight’s eclipse and blood moon…

Espenak takes a long, long view of the “four blood moons” phenomenon:

April’s eclipse is the first to two total lunar eclipses in 2014. The second eclipse is on October 08 and it too is visible from the USA. In this case, the western USA sees the entire eclipse while the eastern USA misses the end of the eclipse because the Moon sets while the eclipse is still in progress.

These two eclipses of [2014] are the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses (each separated by six months) – a series known as a tetrad. The third and fourth eclipses of the tetrad occur on April 04, 2015 and Sept. 28, 2015 .

During the 5000-year period from 2000 BCE through 3000 CE, there are 3479 total lunar eclipses. Approximately 16.3% (568) of all total eclipses belong to one of the 142 tetrads occurring over this period. The mechanism causing tetrads involves the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit in conjunction with the timing of eclipse seasons. During the present millennium, the first eclipse of every tetrad occurs during the period February to July. In later millennia, the first eclipse date gradually falls later in the year because of precession.

Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first pointed out that the frequency of tetrads is variable over time. He noticed that tetrads were relatively plentiful during one 300-year interval, while none occurred during the next 300 years. For example, there are no tetrads from 1582 to 1908, but 17 tetrads occur during the following 2 and 1/2 centuries from 1909 to 2156. The ~565-year period of the tetrad “seasons” is tied to the slowly decreasing eccentricity of Earth’s orbit. Consequently, the tetrad period is gradually decreasing (Meeus, 2004). In the distant future when Earth’s eccentricity is 0 (about 470,000 years from now), tetrads will no longer be possible.

Far from seeing them as signs of Doom, Espenak views them as inherently lovely:

Although total eclipses of the Moon are of limited scientific value, they are remarkably beautiful events

Nota bene: If Hagee is prophecy’s Espernak, Espenak is science’s Hagee.


Tibetans, like those from many other cultures, take eclipses seriously, though they seem to see them more as opportunities than as prophecies of doom. A dear friend pointed me to this invitation to practice from the Tibetan meditation master, Chojje Rinpoche:

On a lunar eclipse, please accomplish practice because whatever you do at this time, good or bad, multiplies many, many times over. It is therefore a great opportunity for you to accumulate merit which is really needed for the betterment of our lives and for our enlightenment. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes, we should not waste it but rather focus on practice, charity and all good works.

According to National Geographic, on the other hand, the blood red moon seen during a total lunar eclipse was attributed by the Inca to a jaguar attacking and eating the moon:

The big cat’s assault explained the rusty or blood-red color that the moon often turned during a total lunar eclipse.


Okay, enough. There’s positive contempt dripping on Pastor Hagee from whoever placed him in that photoshopped version of Bosch’s painting:

Gary DeMar is President of American Vision, where this headline and a more recent attack on Hagee — Why John Hagee is certainly wrong about “blood moons” — can be found. DeMar, following Rousas John Rushdoony, hopes for the eventual imposition of “Biblical Law” in America, and like Rushdoony holds a post-millennialist view of the end times. Wikipedia gives this brief explanation:

Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.

You can see, then, why post-millennialists hold the pre-millennialist enthusiasms and “soon coming” expectations of the likes of Harold Camping and John Hagee in low esteem…


Let’s return to the Bosch painting itself. Arguably missing both from the detail (upper panel, above) and its use by American Vision (upper panel, below) is the face of Christ — which in fact appears twice in Bosch’s original painting…

… once just above and to the left of the three who mock Christ, and once more imprinted on the veil with which Veronica — according to a legend enshrined in the sixth of the Stations of the Cross — wiped Christ’s face, lower left. In the mind and heart of Bosch, too — amid all the brute human throng he sees so clearly — that one face leaves its unforgettable imprint…


I leave you with Albrecht Durer‘s images of the Veronica:

and of the Madonna and the Moon


Mjolnir’s Game

Monday, July 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- a wargame so different from chess and go... ]

A modern version of Hnefatafl, via Sources and Methods


As I noted in a comment at the time, I was deadly envious of Zen‘s recent post, The VA bows Before Mjolnir, but I feel a little better now that I can make my own post about Hnefatafl, which Kristan Wheaton recently characterized as The Ancient Viking Game Every Intelligence Professional Should Play.

Prof. Wheaton’s key findings:

  • It is an asymmetric game.  As you can see from the board above, one side starts in the center and the other side surrounds it on all four sides.  One side outnumbers the other by about 2:1.  The sides even have different victory conditions (the player with the pieces in the center need to get the “King”, the large playing piece in the middle of the board, to one of the corners.  The other player is trying to capture the King).  It is not too hard to see a game such as this one incorporated into courses, classes or discussions of asymmetric warfare.
  • It is a conflict simulation.  Most historians agree that there were relatively few large scale battles involving Vikings. Instead, most of the time, combat resulted from raiding activities.  Hnefatafl seems to reflect the worst case scenario for a Viking raider:  Cut off from your boats and outnumbered 2:1. 
  • It provides a deep lesson in strategic thinking.  Lessons in both the strategy of the central position (hundred of years before Napoleon made it famous) and in the relative value of interior vs. exterior lines of communication are embedded in this game. 

I really, really like the asymmetry of this game — WTG, Norsepersons!


The VA bows Before Mjolnir

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has approved Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor the Norse God of Thunder, for use on gravestones of US military personnel.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs got out of the deciding game,” Pitzl-Waters says. The new rules stated that as long as a soldier filled out the proper paperwork and the symbol they wanted was linked with an existing religious community, a soldier could have any emblem they wanted on their tombstone. “You can’t just put, say, a Metallica logo on your headstone, but otherwise, the VA shifted the onus off of themselves in deciding what is or isn’t an ‘appropriate’ religion.”

In theory at least, Thor’s hammer was an acceptable symbol of faith in the eyes of the VA for the first time ever. But there was a dark side to the rules change. Like blót, the ancient Norse ritual sacrifice used to worship the gods, the Department of Veterans Affairs required blood to be spilled before Thor’s hammer could be officially added to the list. A soldier needed to die.

….Details are thin: His name was Shane, and he was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He came from an extremely private family of Odinists, and he died in August 2012. After his death, his mother campaigned for the VA to not only allow Shane to have the symbol of Mjölnir placed on his headstone but for the same right to be extended retroactively to her husband, Mark, who had been buried by the Department of Veterans Affairs under a blank headstone under stricter rules. After ten months of red tape, the VA finally relented, and where once the space had been left empty, Mjölnir was carved into both of their headstones.

It’s a weird thing, when you think about it. That somewhere within a sea of headstones at Calverton or some other national cemetery, two soldiers–father and son–lay buried beneath the emblem of their faith: a magic, flying hammer that just also happens to be a pretty cool comic book weapon millions of people around the world know pretty well. 

Read the rest here.

Hat tip Feral Jundi


Heavy breathing on the line: Boyd and the hare

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

[dots connected by Lynn C. Rees]



? 1 ?

? Raises question ?

? 2 ?

What did Lucius Aemilius Paullus know and when did he know it?

? 3 ?

Ask Colonel John Boyd, USAF (1927-1997)

? 4 ?

Namedrop John Boyd

What do most respondants think?

? 5 ?

Naive OODA Loop

? 6 ?

Uncritical Insight

John Boyd is a cheerleader jumping up and down on the sidelines chanting “faster! Faster!! FASTER!!!”.

? 7 ?

Uncritical Insight (cont.)

This reduces Boyd to:

  1. Go fast.
  2. Go faster.
  3. Go ludicrous speed.
  4. Profit!!!

? 8 ?

? – Raises Question  - ?

Is this man a cheerleader?

? 9 ?

? and ?

? and ?

? 10 ?



? 11 ?



? 12 ?

Key Asymmetry

When Boyd smiles, he’s 100 million light years away from being a cheerleader.

? 13 ?

Key Asymmetry (cont.)

If a Boyd particle barely brushed a cheerleader particle, it would annihilate it, leaving behind nothing but:

  1. a tremendous burst of energy
  2. plans for a better fighter plane than the F-35 at 1/1,000,000th the cost.

? 14 ?

Critical Insight

To understand Boyd, understand the battle of Leuctra (371 B.C.)

? 15 ?


? 16 ?


Boyd argued victory came by creating of a fatal disconnect between enemy and reality through:

  • mental isolation
  • moral isolation
  • physical isolation

? 17 ?

Message (cont.) 

All three are critical to the originality of Boyd’s thought:

Boyd was thinking outside the box.

? 18 ?

Message (cont.) 

This box:


? 19 ?

Message (cont.) 

More particularly, this box:


? 20 ?

Message (cont.)

Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

Hannibal Barça put 50,000 or so Roman legionaries inside the box.

? 21 ?

Message (cont.)

Few Romans ever thought outside that box again.

? 22 ?


The physical kill box of Cannae became the mental kill box that military thinkers of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century kept their brains in.

? 23 ?

Problem (cont.)

This is your brain:

Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini

? 24 ?

Problem (cont.)

This is your brain on Cannae:


? 25 ?


Schlieffen, Chief of the Great General Staff of the Second Reich from 1893-1906, was obsessed with Cannae.

He even wrote a book on it.

? 26 ?

Worse (cont.)

Schlieffen used an exhaustive checklist when planning future military operations.

? 27 ?

Worse (cont.)

  1. Does my plan destroy the enemy army like Buonoparte?

? 28 ?

Worse (cont.)

Satisfying those stringent requirements led to the Schlieffen-Moltke Plan:

Schlieffen Plan

? 29 ?

Worse (cont.)

Its results were mixed.

? 30 ?


Schlieffen’s plan failed because it only aimed at physical annihilation of Franco-British forces.

? 31 ?

Critique (cont.)

It’s moral and mental isolation (or annihilation) components were few or vestigial.

This absence dominated the Western Front for the next three years.

? 32 ?

First Cut

Boyd suggested that the German development of infiltration techniques in the later half of the war countered this.

Instead of the long bombardments château generals thought would physically annihilate the enemy trench line, barbed wire, and fortifications…

? 33 ?

First Cut (cont.)

The artillery barrage that accompanied German infiltration attack was sudden and unexpected…

…providing suppression as much through sudden mental or moral disorientation as through physical destruction.

? 34 ?

First Cut (cont.)

Instead of the physical impact of large ranks of infantrymen trudging across No Man’s Land…

Small teams of infiltrators dribbled across the lines in small groups, causing moral and mental derangement by attacking the enemy from the flank or rear in unexpected places at surprising times.

? 35-36 ?

Traditional Greek Order of Battle vs Leuctra’s Order of Battle


? 37 ?

Battle of Leuctra

Boyd referred back to Leuctra rather than Cannae as a guide:

Epaminondas‘ seemingly simpler act of stacking his left 50 deep and weakening his right was just as effective as Hannibal’s more technically complex but brittle double envelopment at Cannae.

? 38 ?

Battle of Leuctra (cont.)

Epaminondas created a fatal disconnect between Spartiate and reality through a balanced attack:

  • physical isolation (more husky Boeotians to beat on the Spartan right)
  • moral isolation (that’s against the rules!)
  • mental isolation (the best Boeotian troops were on the left, not, as was tradition, on the right)

? 39 ?

Key Take Away

Epamimondas won a more efficient victory than Hannibal:

He mauled the Spartans just as effectively as Hannibal mauled the Romans …

Without the enormous luck and complexity involved in pulling off a double envelopment.

? 40 ?

And that’s why the NSA records (meta)data on all Americans.


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