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Easter celebrations 2: a new-ish perspective from Judaism?

Monday, April 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Seder and Supper, Resurrection and Easter? ]
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There has been a long dispute as to whether the Last Supper, at which Christ inaugurated the Eucharist, was a Passover seder or not.

The Gospel of John, 19.14, says that Jesus was taken before Pilate, tried and presumably cricified on the day of “the preparation of the passover” – whereas the three other (“synoptic”) gospels suggest the Last Supper was held on “the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.” There’s immense poetry in the notion of Christ as the “Psachal Lamb” or “Lamb of God” — and the Lutheran theologian Joachim Jeremias‘ great work, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, which came out while I was studying Theology at Oxford, makes a powerful case for the Supper as Seder view.

But what of Easter?

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And on the third day, he rose again:

Whereas Muslims tend to deny that the crucifixion took place — see Tim Furnish‘s fascinating blog post today about the Ismaili exception to this general rule — Judaism has until recently accepted that Christ may have died as described in the gospels, but asserted that the Easter resurrection concept was foreign to Judaic thinking.

There’s now at least one scholarly voice, and one piece of evidence, that suggests this may not be the case.

The burning question, apparently, is whether line 80 of this recently discovered “stone Dead Sea Scroll” known as the Gabriel Stone reads “making the dead live after three days” or “in three days the sign will be (given)”.

I am fascinated, but by no means scholar enough to debate the question. For more on the topic, see this 2008 New York Times piece. I have not been following the debate as it has unfolded, and am behind the curve on this one — so if anyone has a pointer to more recent scholarly resources, I’d appreciate an update.

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Mantegna, the Risen Christ:

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Lizz Pearson on Boko Haram & gender, BBC4

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- burn the boys & let the girls get married? -- ]
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Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Nigeria, torched by Boko Haram Feb 2014. Photocredit: AP

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Lizz Pearson pulls all the right details together to paint a vivid and nuanced picture of Boko Haram and their actions and attitudes with regard to gender differences in an interview with Woman’s Hour on BBC4. It’s a stunning story:

This is something that has developed really in the last year, and it’s an explicit evolution, really, in the tactics of Boko Haram. The abductions earlier this week in Chibok have made the headlines because of the scale which is particularly audacious, but they have been kidnapping and abducting schoolgirls and other women really since 2013. [ … ]

The Nigerian government began at the end of 2011 to arrest and detail women and children related to senior leading members of Boko Haram. This is perceived by Boko Haram as a very provocative act. Women are not regarded as combatants by Boko Haram, but they are a way of getting at an enemy, of humiliating an enemy, and they have become pawns, really, in this conflict, in a way that they have been used, both by the Nigerian government security forces in terms of the arrests of women related to Boko Haram — there’s no reason to arrest them for anything they’ve done themselves — and in Boko Haram’s response.

For Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, this has been a real grievance, and has motivated him in making many statements in video messages of his intention to, in retaliation, kidnap and abduct Christian women and women related to government officials.

So far the strategy is different. It’s right that the Taliban has been explicitly targeting girls and with execution. With Boko Haram it’s a bit different. They have in fact been sparing women from execution in contrast with the Taliban policy. There was an attack, for example, on a school in Yobe state in February in which they similarly drove into the school in a convoy of jeeps, very heavily armed, everyone was asleep, they were very vulnerable. They locked the dormitories of male students, set fire to those dormitories, and then slit the throats of many men that they found escaping through the windows — but in this instance they spared the women, they said explicitly, Go home, get married, don’t come back here. In that sense they’re not executing them, but they do have this policy now that Shekau has explicitly ordered, of abducting women instead.

That’s some excellent background — and surprising nuance — to bring to our understanding of the 107 young women recently abducted from their school in Borno State by Boko Haram.

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Ms. Pearson doesn’t mention it, but I suspect there’s a Qur’anic verse somewhere in back of Boko Haram’s notion of retaliation — the same verse which I noted provided the framework for a major bin Laden speech, Qur’an 2.194:

For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

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The “western” mindset sees certain actions as acceptable and others as unacceptable, and international law and various treaties set forth the accompamnying ruleset. Much of Islamic law sets similar limits, eg concerning the treatemnt of prisoners of war, but this verse — like Torah verses about “an eye for an eye” — specifies a diferent method of assessing what is and is not permitted — one which permits the otherwise impermissible on those occasions on which it has been visited upon one.

In essence, the rule becomes mirroring — with moderation.

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That a particular class of actions taken by one party in a conflict may in this way serve as a grant of permission for the same treatment to be returned is a feature of human psychology as well — and may be something worth bearing in mind in considering the introduction of any new class of methodologies or targets in warfare or politics. Do as you would be done by…

What I do may appear to me to be an action: what I may miss is that it is also a potential invitation.

I’m not sure whether that’s so obvious as to be a tautology, or so obscure as to bear frequent repetition. It’s certainly an aspect of human nature, variously formalized as tit for tat or proportionality — and in Islam, it is embedded both in scripture and in cultural understanding, in Qur’an 2.194.

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Religion — or simple decency?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- baruch hashem, exomologoumai soi, alhamdulillah ]
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In the upper panel, Rev. David Buck, an Episcopal priest, sits on the bench outside his church in Davidson, NC, that’s part of sculptor Timothy Schmalz‘s bronze piece, Homeless Jesus that he’s bought and installed there:

The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket the only indication that it is Jesus is the visible wounds on the feet.

In the lower panel, we see Fatima Qassem, age 6, another victim of the warfare in Aleppo, who was wounded by machine-gun fire in both knees. As the AP report puts it:

Two months into the battle for Syria’s largest city, civilians are still bearing the brunt of the daily assaults of helicopter gunships, roaring jets and troops fighting in the streets.

Fatima’s doctor, Dr. Osman al-Haj Osman, works twenty-hour days, and is reported as saying:

My life is just the wounded and the dead.

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I composed this post yesterday from two images I ran across, each of them showing a different figure in roughly the same pose. The similarities between them once again raised the question in my mind whether religion is no more than the shell of a nut whose kernel is loving-kindness, or whether it is more — the very tree itself perhaps?

For myself I tend to think that while loving-kindness may be the essence, religion continues to bring us a wealth of tradition and imagery from which to draw inspiration:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

As one who is a wayfarer at heart, and who has been received with hospitality in many traditions, those words from Isaiah are waybread indeed.

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Sources:

  • Statue Of A Homeless Jesus Startles A Wealthy Community
  • Wounded flood hospitals in Syria’s largest city
  • Both articles are worth reading in full.

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    In my own view, the “proof text” Rev. Buck quoted in the article, Matthew 25.40, is of critical importance not because of the ontological status of the person who spoke it, nor because it was included in a canonical collection of sayings by and about him that was gathered and officially sanctioned in the centuries following his death, nor indeed with regard only to an “actual homeless person” in a single neighborhood in North Carolina — but because it rings high and true, semper et ubique:

    Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

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    The religions: which is it to be – sibling rivalry or family feeling?

    Monday, April 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- two images from recent Religion Dispatches posts neatly pose the question ]
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    Sources:

  • Jeremy Stolow, Will Quebec Ban Religious Symbols in Public?
  • M Sophia Newman, Are Attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh Religiously Motivated?
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    Québec officially doesn’t seem to like what it terms “conspicuous religious symbols” — including the pictured “large” crucifix, hijab, and dastar (upper panel above, top row, left to right) and niqab and kippa (bottom row, left to right).

    I suppose that’s one way to achieve uniformity — maybe peacocks should be asked to tone down their feathers until they’re more in line with pigeons, too — but it’s instructive to note that most of the folk in the Bangladeshi march for religious harmony (lower panel, above) would be banned from wearing their identifying symbols if they tried to hold a similar parade in Montréal, Québec.

    Lac Zut, alors!

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    In the tiny middle panel of my DoubleQuotes graphic, where you’ll usually find a pair of spectacles or binoculars, the Swayambunath Buddha, just outside Kathmandu, Nepal, looks on, bemused — having seen so much, so very much, of human nature.

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    Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making

    Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- describing one of two books I am currently working on -- your comments invited ]
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    I’m currently working on two book proposals for a publishing start-up a couple of friends of mine are putting together, and wanted to keep interested ZP readers informed. One proposal is titled Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making, and the other Coronation: the magic of monarchy. In this post, I want to say a little about landmines in the garden.

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    Ali parlays with Amru bin Abd al Wudd prior to their duel, illumination from Bal'ami MS

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    In what seems to have been my eighth guest post here at at Zenpundit, I introduced readers to the Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd. It’s a story that interests me a great deal, appearing as it does in Muslim lore in Jalaluddin Rumi‘s Mathnawi among other sources — and with a variant form recounted by Joseph Campbell, who makes of it a Samurai story

    What I find so fascinating about the story as Rumi and others tell it is that is shows us what are called the “greater jihad” or struggle against one’s selfish nature happening in the context of the “lesser jihad” or war to defend the fledgling Muslim community. It is often claimed that the ahadith which depict these two jihads, with Muhammed obseerving that warriors returning from battle are returning from the lesser to the greater, are of late date and/or dubious provenance, and (tho no expert) I am inclined to accept that claim. Nevertheless, this story vividly illustrates the relation between them — and is one that has been used by Muslim sources more than once to restrain potential and wannabe jihadists from a foolish and dangerous impulse…

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    The story of the duel between Ali ibn Abu Talib and Amru ibn Abd Wudd is one in which a great Muslim warrior, Ali, interrupts an act of war (killing an enemy in the course of the “lesser jihad”) because he finds himself filled with angry pride (a condition that is unacceptable in terms of the “greater jihad” of the struggle for purity).

    I find it striking that both the Muslim intellectuals / theologians of Ihasanic Intelligence, in “The Hijacked Caravan: Refuting Suicide Bombings as Martyrdom Operations in Contemporary Jihad Strategy” [p. 13], and the Muslim film-maker Kamran Pasha, in his episode of Sleeper Cell [Season 2 episode 4}, offer this tale of Ali and Amru as illustrating the erroneous thinking of AQ and its collowers.

    I strongly recommend the sermon and subsequent discussion that Kamran Pasha puts into the mouth of his visiting Imam in that episode, which can be seen here:

    — and note in particular how Pasha explicitly connects this story of Ali with the issue of the greater and lesser jihads.

    If both the writers of a scholarly treatise and the writer of a popular television series use the same story to convince their fellow Muslims, it seems plausible that the story in question may in fact powerfully and appropriately serve such a purpose as deradicalization — while emanating from within the culture and context of Islam itself.

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    I shall be using that story as the narrative heart of my book, which will explore both religious violence and peace-making.

    The cover I’d like for the book is this one, since it emphasizes the peaceable side of things — the terrorist side is only too clear, and in my view requires balancing from the side of the peace-makers:

    My over-arching theme will be that religions offer us Pardes, Paradise, Firdaws — a garden or orchard of peace — but that buried within their scriptures and narratives there are texts which, if triggered, can be interpretetd as offering divine or transcendent sanction for violence — hence, landmines in the garden.

    I am all for the identification and avoidance of landmines.

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    Here, then, is my “executive summary” for the book:

    War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.

    Somewhat to the surprise of those who felt sure the world was growing ever more secular as time went on and the marvels of science and technology prevailed over myth and magic, it seems as though religion is enjoying an upswing — and while this might seem no more than a mild sociological curiosity for many of us, for those concerned with threats to national and international security and peace, it’s a major problem.

    And it’s a far more intractable problem than it needs to be, because we have a blind-spot with regard to religious violence: we either don’t see it at all, thinking it’s all just politics as usual, wearing a religious mask — or we think it’s all religion’s fault, or all the fault of one religion in particular — someone else’s religion, one we don’t much like at all. What we don’t see is the whole picture.

    There are robust industries proclaiming that religion is responsible for all the woes of our times, and that Islam is responsible for terrorism in particular — and a powerful lobby, backed by US presidents of both parties, that argues that Islam is a religion of peace and that al-Qaida and its offshoots have “hijacked” that peaceable religion for purely political reasons.

    In truth al-Qaida is but one expression of Islam — a religion as widespread and diverse across centuries and continents as Christianity or Buddhism — but by no means representative of all that Islam has to offer the world.

    In this book, we shall explore the strands of violence, warfare and terrorism to be found across all the major religions — Buddhist killings of Muslims in Myanmar, Sikh separatist assassinations in India, Christian vs Muslim militias in Africa (with touches of cannibalism on both sides), Hindu mobs razing a Muslim temple, Jews attacking the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron… and the call, in each of these religions, for moderation and peace.

    Christian contemplatives, Islamic Sufis, Taoist masters, Hindu yogis, Tibetan lamas, and Jewish mystics find common cause in a self-surrender to a power greater than themselves, a power which offers love as its highest goal, seeks justice balanced with mercy, and has compassion as its practical expression in the world. These religions do not merely teach peace, they show us how to find it in ourselves, and how to practice it in our lives.

    The great and glorious beauties that the various religions have brought into this world offer us fruits of that contemplative love, foretastes of the Garden, the Paradise all religions proclaim. But there are landmines in that Garden. If we are to come to grips with the perils of religious terrorism and hate, we must understand religion’s potential for both violence and peace.

    My book will refute the myths, expands our horizons, and offer reconciliation, beauty and hope.

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    Your comments and suggestions for the book are most welcome.

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