[ by Charles Cameron — a blistering documentary account of Pakistan’s Lal Masjid, jihadist focal point ]
I’ve just been watching the 2015 documentary Among the Believers, now showing on Netflix. It concerns the Red Mosque, Lal Masjid — its teachings, its encouragement of jihad, and the government siege which shut it down in 2007. The speaker denouncing the masjid is Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy.
Here are some screengrabs that caught my eye..
Maulana Abdul Aziz, who runs the place, speaks of his son, who was inside the Masjid during the bloody siege, and lost his life:
He was my only son. When I was in prison, during the final part of the siege, police guards loyal to us told me that since I had only one son, they would smuggle him out of there. But I said no. I told them I was willing to sacrifice him for Allah. You know, I regret the fact that I didn’t died for Allah. They said, “What’s more important than one’s child’s life?”
What is of interest here is the amplified echo of the story of Abraham‘s willingness to sacrifice his son (variously Isaac, Ishmael)
His title of Shahbaz (royal falcon) is associated with him because of the mystical and spiritual heights he attained. This is reflected in his own poetry: “I am the royal falcon, that has no (fixed) place i.e. I am always in flight; I cannot be contained in any place; I am the phoenix, that cannot be restrained in any symbol or form” (Qazi, 1971, p. 26).
The third title associated with saint’s name is Qalandar. Muhammad Hussain bin Khalaf Tabrizi, the writer of a famous Persian dictionary defines Qalandar as someone “so much spiritualized that he is free from social and customary inhibitions and taboos” (Mohammad, 1978, p.7). Many other references have used terms like, “intoxicated in spirituality” to define the term Qalandar. The title of Qalandar has been associated with three saints, Lal Shahbaz, saint Bu Ali Sharfuddin of Panipat and a female saint Rabia Basri (Mohammad, 1978).
A taste of his poetry gives a taste of the man:
I am burning with Divine love every moment.
Sometimes I roll in the dust,
And sometimes I dance on thorns.
I have become notorious in your love.
I beseech you to come to me!
I am not afraid of the disrepute,
To dance in every bazaar.
Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is both transgressive – a frequently overused term, yet entirely applicable in this instance – and transcendent.
It’s not always easy to get a fix on Sufi poet-saints. Consider this tale of Kabir, a Muslim from Varanasi, who obtained initiation from the Hindu saint Ramanand:
One of the most loved legends associated with Kabir is told of his funeral. Kabir’s disciples disputed over his body, the Muslims wanting to claim the body for burial, the Hindus wanting to cremate the body. Kabir appeared to the arguing disciples and told them to lift the burial shroud. When they did so, they found fragrant flowers where the body had rested. The flowers were divided, and the Muslims buried the flowers while the Hindus reverently committed them to fire.
Shahbaz Qalandar’s death seems similarly shrouded in mystery – so much so that the quai-authoritative Wikipedia entry for him reports both “Died: 19 February 1275 (aged 98-99) and “Lal Shahbaz lived a celibate life and died in the year 1300 at the age of 151. “
It is his death – considered as his marriage with the divine beloved – that is celebrated at the three-day urs (literally: marriage) festival, attended yearly in Sehwan by upwards of a half-million devotees, at which the divine love is glimpsed through a dance – the dhamaal – similar in function to, though not the same as, the sama dance of the dervish order order founded by Qalandar’s contemporary, Jalaluddin Rumi. The dancers’ characteristic experience is one of divine intoxication, mast.
It was Qalandar’s shrine / tomb that was the site of the IS-claimed bombing this week.
With appreciation & and hat-tip to Omar Ali, and condolences — also to Husain Haqqani, Raza Rumi, Pundita, and all those who live, work and or pray for a peaceable Pakistan.
— but it brings up again the question of whether we think in terms of “acts of God” or “laws of Nature” or — somehow — both. And that’s where thw roding of the Constitution comes in, with the phrase “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”:
If I used that phrasing — “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” — today, I might well be attempting to please or at least placate readers who variously:
believe in a God separate from and superior to Nature, and author of Nature’s laws
believe in a God essentially indistinguishable from Nature, wholly immanent, &
disbelieve in any kind of God, but recognize Nature as a catchall term for the Whole System.
I don’t suppose that would necessarily be the case in 1776, though, and wonder whether the phrase should be read as:
the Laws — of Nature and of Nature’s God
the Laws of Nature — and of Nature’s God
and if the second, whether the and marks a distinction between Nature and nature’s God, or also covers the possibility of their being one and the same.
And once we’ve cleared that up, and bearing in mind that John Donne could write “At the round earth’s imagin’d corners” — thus conflating the old, imaginative, square earth with the new, scientific, spherical one — how feasible do you think it is to hold simultaneously the idea that a given earthquake, hurricane, tsunami or volcanic eruption is an act of God and a natural disaster?
Neil Armstrong? Heard the Islamic Call to Prayer? On the moon?
Poets love the moon, almost by definition — the Chinese poet Li Po supposedly drowned while attempting (under the influence) to kiss her face in the Yellow River — so this alleged, though dubious, story was definitely too rich in possibilities for me to ignored. And the Islamic Call to Prayer? According to Nicholas Kristof in the NYT:
Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”
You may or may not agree, but if you want to hear the Call and judge for yourself, you could try listening to one of these videos:
That’s what led me to my second discovery –one which might be excused by blaming autocorrect, twice, for suggesting that Neil Young — he of the voice, upper panel below — and Louis Arnmstrong — he of the trumpet, lower panel — were each the first man to land on the moon, per (in both cases) NBC.
In all fairness, it’s worth noting that other candidates for moon walks include Buzz Lightyear, Lance Armstrong, and Michael Jackson.
None of these mistakes are critical, however, if you believe the late Srila Prabhupada, who introduced Krishna Consciousness to the United States. As someone fascinated by different cosmologies and theologies, I remember reading of Prabhupada’s claim that the moon landing was faked in a California film studio in his magazine some time in the 1970s. No longer having access to the magazine, and looking for confirmation of that memory, I found this page, Srila Prabhupadas statements about the moon landing, of considerable interest:
Srila Prabhuapda himself said different things at different times. Sometimes he directly said they didn’t go and it was some kind of hoax. And at other times he said they didn’t go to the moon because they didn’t experience the higher dimensional nature of the moon planet, which is a rational way to harmonize the Vedic perspective with the idea of three dimensional space travel. At other times he just said the whole idea was foolish and a waste of money. He saw material space travel as a foolish attempt to reach higher dimensions which can only be reached by yogic practice.
Bear in mind too that both Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard also taught their followers about significant planets that do not form part of the standard astronomical account of deep space — or the heavens, in other words.
The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.
As I understand it, the idea here is to limit the violence to something that might be considered “gentle reproof” — compare, for example, the hudud penalties as applied in both countries — and bearing in mind also these notes from Wiki:
These punishments range from public lashing to publicly stoning to death, amputation of hands and crucifixion. The crimes against hudud cannot be pardoned by the victim or by the state, and the punishments must be carried out in public. However, the evidentiary standards for these punishment were often impossibly high, and were thus infrequently implemented in practice. Moreover, Muhammad ordered Muslim judges to ‘ward off the Hudud by ambiguities.’ The severe Hudud punishments were meant to convey the gravity of those offenses against God and to deter, not to be carried out. If a thief refused to confess, or if a confessed adulterer retracted his confession, the Hudud punishments would be waived.
Bear in mind also the “western” punishments I described here recently in The Cat and the Database. Female genital mutilation, in other words — a cultural, not an Islamic practice — is far more worthy of our scorn.
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