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The new AQ magazine: miracles from Khorasan

Monday, October 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there's a similar report from Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, fwiw ]
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I have commented before on the use of miracle stories by Abdullah Azzam as quoted in Inspire magazine, and an African equivalent found in Gaidi Mtaani, the Shabaab magazine, to engage the devotion and loyalty of pious troops: Resurgence magazine continues the tradition.

Hasan Gul

Here for your edification from the new AQIS magazine Resurgence, are two examples, drawn from the life and martyrdom of Hasan Gul, known to the Washington Post, and likely many ZP readers, as Hassan Ghul.

The first as to do with the miraculous preservation of his life:

When Shaykh Khalid Habib, the military head of Al Qaida in Khurasan, was martyred, brother Hasan Gul was with him. The Shaykh (may Allah have mercy on him) was inside the car, while he was standing outside. He had just extended his hand to open the door of the car when a missile fired from a drone hit the car. Allah (swt) miraculously saved his life. He was thrown several feet away by the explosion. His shin bone was fractured as a result. Several days later, when I met him he showed me a coin that had been in the upper pocket of his shirt, just above his heart at the time of the drone attack. A small shrapnel of the missile had hit the coin, because of which the coin had been bent inwards. Allah (swt) prevented the shrapnel from piercing his heart with this small coin. Verily, when Allah (swt) decrees life for His slave, no one can give him death!

It seems plausible that the same mercy was extended to one of Cromwell‘s soldiers in the English Civil War, if one may trust James Waylen’s 1880 The House of Cromwell and the Story of Dunkirk:

An account of the pocket-Bible printed by Cromwell’s order for distribution among his men was some time back published by Mr. George Livermore of Cambridge, Massachusets, who possesses one of the only two copies known to exist, the other being in the Brit. Mus. Library. .. That such a book was really in use, we learn from Richard Baxter who relates the story of a soldier receiving a shot near the heart, the fatal force of the bullet being arrested by its lodging in the Bible which he carried in his breast. And a very thin Bible it was too, being comprised in a sheet folded in 16mo. An entire Bible, even in the most compact form then known, would have been far too bulky and far too expensive.

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The second deals with the pleasant scent that Azzam had previously noted was a mark of the martyr — here’s the same motif as applied to Hasan Gul:

Last year in October, when he left his house on a motor bike, American drones assassinated him. His body was shredded to bits by a direct missile hit and his remains were scattered over a large area. When some Mujahid brothers reached the site of the attack, they faced the problem of searching for and gathering the bits and pieces of his body. However, Allah (swt) made this task easy for them. A large part of his body was easily found. An ethereal fragrance that was simply not of this world was coming from this dismembered part of his body. This extremely beautiful fragrance was smelt by all the brothers present at the scene. The brothers then decided to locate his body parts with the help of this scent. All the brothers had to do was to follow this fragrance to find a part of his body. All the parts of his body exuded this fragrance without any exception. Thus the fragrance of Hasan Gul’s blood led to the remains of his body. May Allah be pleased with him and grant him the company of the Prophets and the righteous. Ameen!

Again, I refer you to my post Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad for comments on similar reports in Catholic and Arthurian literatures.

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But let’s return briely to that Bible story — there’s really quite an extended history of these reports.

Consider the American Civil War veteran of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry Division, whose daughter wrote:

At another time a bullet hit the New Testament he was carrying in his shirt pocket and glanced off. This sweetheart, who later became his wife, had given him the New Testament when he entered the service.

Or the Army Cyclist Corps despatch rider whose life was saved by a still-extant “combined Bible, prayer book and hymnal” near Arras, France, in 1915:

bible-saved life

Or Pfc. Brendon Schweigart, who claims only that when a sniper’s bullet found the Bible in his shirt pocket in Iraq, it:

definitely prevented more serious injury, because if it wouldn’t have been there, it would have ricocheted off my bullet-proof plate and more than likely would have gone back into my chest, causing more damage.

Indeed, the “Bible stopped the bullet” tale has enough variants that Mythbusters once tested it with a 400-page Bible, albeit not one with a metal cover…

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Because, yes, metal-covered Bibles were given to GIs in World War II with the cover inscribed “May this keep you safe from harm” — no doubt with the hope and prayer that if need be, the metal covering would indeed prove a protective “breastplate of righteousness”:

Heart shield bible

In fact, the 1943 “Heart Shield Bible” depicted is on sale now on eBay, at a current asking price of $21.49.

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It’s no dcoubt a bit of a stretch, but I believe that when you “encourage” miracles by providing metallic holy pocket-books for protective use on the battleield, it’s an example of what Max Weber famously called the “routinization of charisma”.

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Al-Nusra and Daesh: a joy, a grief and a prayer

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- reading the Quran & hadith concerning the fates of Fr Hanna Jallouf, Alan Hemming, and Peter Kassig ]
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L-to-R: hostages  Fr Hanna Jallouf, Alan Hemming, and Peter Kassig

L-to-R: hostages Fr Hanna Jallouf, Alan Hemming, and Peter Kassig

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I rejoice that Jabhat al-Nusra has released the Franciscan priest Fr Hanna Jallouf, remembering Qur’an 5.82:

Thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say ‘We are Christians’; that, because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud;

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I grieve because IS / Daesh has executed the aid worker Alan Henning, remembering Quran 60.8:

God forbids you not, as regards those who have not fought you in religion’s cause, nor expelled you from your habitations, that you should be kindly to them, and act justly towards them; surely God loves the just.

As a sizeable group of British imams put it:

Mr Henning was a volunteer who travelled to Syria to help innocent civilians.

Acts of humanitarianism are an essential element of religious practice for all Muslims, and of course they are just as significant to other people too. Islamic teachings call for charity and selflessness. Most importantly, acts of beneficence do not, and cannot, exclude non-Muslims.

In Islam, concern for fellow humans and the duty to help everyone is a religious obligation. Anyone undertaking a humanitarian act is paving his or her way to receive help from heaven, should be commended and held in the highest esteem.

In contrast, the senseless kidnapping, murder and now the despicable threats to Mr Henning at the hands of so-called ‘Muslims’ cannot be justified anywhere in the Quran and the Sunnah (Prophetic traditions).

The un-Islamic fanatics are not acting as Muslims, but as the Prime Minister has said, they are acting as monsters. They are perpetrating the worst crimes against humanity. This is not Jihad – it is a war against all humanity.

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And I pray for the life of Peter Kassig, a Muslim convert now captive and under threat of death by IS / Daesh, remembering Quran 16.125:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.

and the hadith found in Sahih Bukhari, vol 1, bk 2, # 25:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:

Allah’s Apostle said: “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.”

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Some wrenchingly sad news, 2: nuanced theological implications

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- some surprising twists here, if you think of IS as entirely lacking compassion or religious and moral consideration ]
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I am going to take the religious issues out of their original order to create a smoother reading experience with regard to the theological surprises in Barber’s article.

Barber’s perplex:

I have also been perplexed by the question of IS’ methods and behavior and have felt a need to understand the fact that they work according to specific ideals and a strict religious code for behavior, yet often seem to act outside of what such a code would permit. They are not alien creatures but human agents with aspirations of state building who even demonstrate acts of compassion.

Once again, religion turns out to be crucial to a full understanding.

We tend to treat IS — not surprisingly considering their barrage of beheadings videos and other publicized horrors on social media — as utterly unconstrained thugs and brutes. There’s no denying the brutalities, but a more sophisticated reading finds some relevant background in Abu Bakr Naji‘s book, The Management of Savagery, as Will McCants, lately of CTC West Point and now at Brookings, explains.

Booty, both literal and metaphorical:

First, it is worth noting that the taking of captured women as slaves / booty does have religious precedent:

The philosophy underpinning the taking of Yazidi slaves is based in IS’ interpretation of the practices of Muslim figures during the early Islamic conquests, when women were taken as slave concubines—war booty—from societies being conquered.

It’s hideous, it’s “medieval” if you like that term, but it does have arguable religious precedent.

People of the Book vs Polytheists:

Taking the brutality as a given, then, what are we to make of the preferential treatment afforded Christians vis-à-vis Yazidis?

Though they have robbed them of their wealth, IS has not targeted the Christian community in the same way that they have the Yazidis. As “People of the Book,” Christians are seen as having certain rights; Yazidis, however, are viewed by IS as polytheists and are therefore seen as legitimate targets for subjugation and enslavement, if they do not convert to Islam.

Acts of Compassion:

This is perhaps the aspect of Barber’s piece which is most unexpected, and as such deserves our consideration. It is a part of the puzzle, after all is said and done, and our reflexive disgust at the many other brutalities of IS should not blind us to it:

Christians who fled one Iraqi town described to me how IS fighters provided food for their elderly and disabled Christian relatives who were not able to flee, and then later transported them to an area near Kirkuk where they would be able to rejoin their relatives.

The question:

Barber poses the question — to himself, to the analytic community, and to all of us:

How are we to reconcile these humane instances of goodwill with the apparent criminality and destruction that is so pervasive with IS?

The answer:

The answer is not yet in:

Many discussions will continue regarding the similarities and differences between IS’ methods and the actual practice of the early Islamic community. Historical context will be discussed by scholars, and God’s intentions will be parsed out by those with a theological bent.

The situation, therefore:

But regardless of how our contemporaries interpret the past, IS’ attempts to recreate and relive a period in which slaves were taken in war have shattered families that now reel in pain after their children have been snatched away from them.

The imperative:

The imperative to relieve such gross suffering, if it is possible to do so without causing suffering that is even greater in so doing, is the topic of the third and last post in this series, in which I’ll post extracts of Barber’s assessment of the possibility of rescue.

There is hope here, amid all the suffering and hate.

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Scots

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- of the Camerons of Erracht ]
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2Tim4 602

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With all the current talk of Scottish Independence, and given my own myopic focus on matters scriptural and theological, I thought it might be apposite to post a few verses from the New Testament in the braid tongue of my forefathers before me.

Happening across the logo at the top of this post while googling, I thought I’d bring you a taste of Chaptir Fowr of Second Timothy;

I chairge ye, i’ the presence o’God, and Christ Jesus wha is to judge the leevin and the deid, and by his shinin-forth and kingdom,

Gie oot the word! Press ye in season and oot o’ season; convince, rebute, entreat, wi’ a lang-tholin and doctrine.

For thar wull be a time whan halesome teachin they winna thole : but, conform to their ain desires, and haein a yeuck i’ their lugs, wull gaither-up teachers to theirsels;

And wull turn awa frae hearin the truth, and turn agley to glaikit tales.

But be ye watchfu’ in a’ things, thole afflictions, do the wark o’ an evangelist, fulfil yere service.

For I am bein offer’t, and the time o’ my settin-free is at haun.

The gude-fecht hae I fouchten, the race hae I run, the faith hae I keepit!

From The New Testament in Braid Scots, with a glossary of Scottish terms rendered by Rev. William Wye Smith. My copy is of the 1924 printing.

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I’m not qualified to vote, which is probably a good thing — but I’ll certainly be interested to see what my clanfolk and kinfolk decide this Thursday…

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David, Goliath, and Art Spiegelman

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- contrasting perspectives, asymmetric warfare, and a bible story ]
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Art Spiegelman, the creator of the acclaimed graphic treatment of the Holocaust, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, has now posted a visual DoubleQuote of his own, along with a comment on Israel:

Spiegelman Goliath David

From today’s Jewish Daily Forward article, Art Spiegelman Breaks His Silence on Israel:

Captioned “Perspective in Gaza (The David and Goliath Illusion),” the Biblical-style art image consists of two panels. On the left is a traditional rendering of David facing Goliath. The right-hand panel presents a shrunken Goliath brought closer to the foreground. Using the tricks of size and perspective to make what is surely not an original political point, it’s a clever play on Spiegelman’s life’s work as an illustrator.

Spiegelman’s own comment, accompanying the image on his FaceBook page, reads:

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to NOT think about Israel—deciding it has nothin more to do with me, a diasporist, than the rest of the World’s Bad News on Parade. Israel is like some badly battered child with PTSD who has grown up to batter others.

That’s Spiegelman: I’m not in the business of psychologizing nations, so I won’t comment one way or the other.

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In Koan 1 — Bibi, Walt, and the concept of buffer zones, I asked:

Is Israel best seen as a Goliath towering over the Palestinians, or as a David caught between a swathe of Islamic states and the deep blue Mediterranean sea?

I see some truth in both views, which is why I call the Israeli / Palestinian question a koan.

A while earlier, in Numbers by the numbers: two, I wrote:

The second is that within the asymmetries, it is not uncommon to find a reversal of polarities by which the lesser outsmarts and defeats the greater force. I’m thinking here of David and Goliath as the archetypal version, and of Nigel Howard, in Confrontation Analysis: how to win operations other than war, writing:

the problem of defense in the modern world is the paradoxical one of finding ways for the strong to defeat the weak.

A different aspect of asymmetry emerges when one can think of Israel as both the powerful high-tech occupier of a poorly-equipped and stateless mass of Palestinians, and a tiny emergent Jewish democracy surrounded on all sides (except the sea) by Arab and or Muslim once and future foes… a Goliath seen one way, a David the other…

What’s intriguing here is that in some ways everybody wants to be David, right?

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In an ideal world..

.. but that’s not the world we live in, is it?

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