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Getting religion, forgetting circumcision

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — some characteristicc lacunae in journalisti praxis ]
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As you know, I used to work for Lapido Media, which in turn used to be a media-eductional outlet that emphasized the major role of religion(s) in world affairs, so often overlooked by typically skeptical, secular journos.

Get religion is a fine site with a similar purpose, and today it has a fine article titled With Russia all over U.S. news map right now, how fares its huge Orthodox Church? For instance:

In addition to politics, there’s a historic religious turnabout in Russia that stateside reporters could well develop through interviews with the experts. The dominant Orthodox Church, which managed to survive Communist terror and regained freedom, has latterly emerged as a strategic prop for Putin’s Kremlin.

If that election day peg doesn’t work for your outlet, another signal event comes July 17. That’s the Orthodox feast day of the doomed final czar, Nicholas II, and his family, shot to death by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918 and canonized by the national church in 2000 as saints and “passion-bearers.”

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It’s not just journos who forget / don’t get religion — pols in the extreme north do it, too. How else explain this header from Iceland: Iceland male circumcision ban: MP behind plan ‘didn’t think it was necessary to consult’ Jewish and Muslim groups, amid growing anger. The subhead is (from my POV) idf anytbing even more mind-boggling:

‘I don’t see it as a religious matter,’ insists Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir

What does Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir imagine the origin of the practice was?

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What else do journos tend to miss?

Well, there’s female obits, for onr thing — although things may be improving in that regard. Here’s a New York Times’ obit, belated but in a good faith effort to catch and patch up: 1932-1963 Sylvia Plath –A postwar poet unafraid to confront her own despair. It begins:

She made sure to spare the children, leaving milk and bread for the two toddlers to find when they woke up. She stuffed the cracks of the doors and windows with cloths and tea towels. Then she turned on the gas.

And it quotes her poetry:

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.

Okay, it’s International Women’s Day 2018.

Thank you, Anemona Hartocollis and the NYT editors. We mourn you, Mrs easily forgotten behind your husband Hughes.

Anti-Muslim converts to Islam — Enantiodromia!

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — balancing explanations — psychological, sociological, anthropological ]
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Carl Jung‘s definitions of enantiodromia read:

In the philosophy of Heraclitus it [enantiodromia] is used to designate the play of opposites in the course of events—the view that everything that exists turns into its opposite….

I use the term enantiodromia for the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. [CW 6, 708 & 709]

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There could hardly be a clearer set of instances of this individual psychological principle than this, as reported by David A Graham in the strong>Atlantic yesterday:

The Strange Cases of Anti-Islam Politicians Turned Muslims
Three recent incidents seem to highlight a quirk of sociology.

More details:

Last fall, Arthur Wagner was part of something remarkable: His political party, the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland, entered the Bundestag, becoming the first far-right party in the body since the 1950s. This year, Wagner has done something even more [ .. ]remarkable: He has converted to Islam and left AfD.

Even stranger, Wagner is not the first person to leave a far-right, anti-Islam party in Europe and become a Muslim. Arnoud van Doorn, a member of Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party—which is another far-right, anti-Islam party—left it in 2011, converted to Islam in 2012, and soon after made hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca Muslims are obliged to make at least once in their lifetimes. And in 2014, Maxence Buttey, a local councillor for the National Front (FN), France’s analogous far-right party, converted to Islam and was suspended from the party committee.

In the United States, a grisly story made headlines last year when an 18-year-old former neo-Nazi in Tampa who said he had converted to Islam confessed to killing two (apparently still) neo-Nazi roommates, though that case is so grotesque, and the use of violence so far from mainstream Muslim practice, that it defies comparison to the European examples. (The suspect also shouted a nonsensical, non-Muslim phrase.)

In all cases, the shift from anti-Muslim to Muslim is counterintuitive.

The same article quotes friend JM Berger, commenting after the Charlotesville shootings —

The process and structure of radicalization and extremism are the same in different kinds of movements, even when the content of the extremist belief is different (such as with neo-Nazis and jihadists)

— all this as part of a sociological explanation of conversions to and from extremisms.

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The sociological explanations are well-represented by these paras:

There seem to be some people who are joiners, eager to become part of larger groups. Almost everyone will know someone like this, perhaps someone who is constantly searching for new social groups or joining new organizations, or perhaps even a spiritual seeker-type who flirts with a succession of faiths. The cliche about the “zeal of the convert” exists for a reason.

According to Michael Hogg’s uncertainty-identity theory, people seek to reduce questions about who they are, where they fit in the world, and how people view them. “One way to satisfy this motivation is to identify with a group (a team, an organization, a religion, an ethnicity, a nation, etc.) a process that not only defines and locates oneself in the social world but also prescribes how one should behave and how one should interact with others,” Hogg writes.

I don’t think these sociological explanations really conflict with Jung’s theory of enantiodromia, but the latter seems more exact – “turning into the opposite” rather than “showing a propensity for eextremes” — because in my view, Jung’s version hits the mark so exactly.

I’m too fatigued to fisk Graham’s article more extensively, but my main point is that enantiodromia is “closer in” than the sociological motive, focusing in the indiviual rather than the group.

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Issues of this kind crop up quite frequently. IMO we need some kind of useful understandings of the boundaries between anthropology and sociology, and of the complex relations of both with psychology.

The Passion for Freedom Quartet

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — slyly smiling ]
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London had an exhibit titled Passion for Freedom:

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The idea was to support freedom of speech. But then some rabbit and squirrel toys from the blissful land of Sylvania were encroached upon by the ISIS-flag-waving MICE-IS terrorists, and the British police felt the tableaux showing them —

— might be problematic, so they intervened, freezing the free speech in its tracks:

In Isis Threaten Sylvania, rabbits, mice and hedgehogs go about their daily life, sunning themselves on a beach, drinking at a beer festival or simply watching television, while the menacing figures of armed jihadis lurk in the background. “Far away, in the land of Sylvania, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, mice and all woodland animals have overcome their differences to live in harmonious peace and tranquility. Until Now,” reads the catalogue note. “MICE-IS, a fundamentalist Islamic terror group, are threatening to dominate Sylvania, and annihilate every species that does not submit to their hardline version of sharia law.”

The decision to remove the work from Passion for Freedom came after the Mall Galleries consulted the police, who raised “a number of serious concerns regarding the potentially inflammatory content of Mimsy’s work”. The gallery cited a clause in the exhibition contract which allowed it the right to request removal of an artwork.

The Guardian, Artwork showing Sylvanian Families terrorised by Isis banned from free speech exhibition

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Of course, ISIS can’t afford to let a bunch of MICE-IS clowns represent them without some come-back, so today Jihadology, Aaron Zelin‘s brilliant counter-terrorism website, brought news of ISIS-in-India’s response: a thirteen-page theological wallop named, appropriately enough, Passion for Freedom

— In this ponderous tome, Muhammad Miqdaad asserts:

Passion for freedom is an innate nature of Human beings. There is a hunger for freedom inside us; no sane person will accept others’ slavery willingly. For freedom, we’ve fought wars in all ages; so this is the case today and will remain the same in the future.

The citizens of Sylvania would no doubt agree.

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And so their story, disallowed from featuring in a freedom of speech exhibit, has now been liberated, and may be purchased as a baby book:

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Let Freedom Ring!

The contiguity between churches and mosques in the early Islamic Bilad al-Sham

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

[ by Greg McMurray — a gest post hosted by Charlws Cameron ]
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It’s ny pleasure to offer ZP readers who may be interested in early and surprising Christian-Muslim relations this essay by our friend Greg McMurray. It is admittedly long, and hey, gets richer as it goes deeper. Enjoy. — Charlws Cameron

Sometime in the mid-7th century, the powerful Umayyad warlord Muawiyah traveled with his family to a simple Christian monastery. Nestled along the Great Zab River in the old province of Adiabene, the monks of Bar Qoqa were well known for their works of wonder. During the Arab conquest, the monastery was a refuge for surrounding villagers who miraculously escaped death because of the prayerful intercession of the holy men. The great Arab commander’s visit was to employ some of that same divine protection for his own family and probably for his own imperial power.

There was one incident at the monastery where, while under siege from invaders, the rising flood waters of the river almost swept the Christians away until the surge was stopped by prayer at the last critical moment. Another story has the Arabs chasing the Christians into a church with no provisions except for a jar of water. The monks blessed the water, and it was transformed into a limitless supply as the Arabs were driven off by other divine actions of fire and fury and phenomenon.(1)

Perhaps the region’s most famous miracle working monk was the Assyrian saint Rabban Hormizd . According to the ancient accounts he had a habit of baptizing “heretics”, which was how they referred to the Muslim Arab invaders. When criticized for it, he responded that baptism was not for believers but for the non-believers. To prove it, Hormizd blessed some water to baptize two children, one Christian and the other Muslim. When he approached the Christian child, the water was mysteriously lost, but when he approached the Muslim child the water miraculously returned to the vessel. Vindicated, he continued baptizing that Muslim child and other Arab “heretics”(2)

Hormizd was also extremely proficient at combining baptism with raising the dead. One particularly fortunate soul was the son of the governor of Mosul. At or around the year 640 AD, he healed the young boy while washing him with blessed baptismal waters. The Governor was so grateful that he immediately submitted to be baptized with this “baptism of repentance… as John gave the baptism of repentance unto the people of the Jews.” The Governor then built the famous monastery bearing the name of Rabban Hormizd.(3)

It was amidst this whirlwind of wondrous baptisms and revivifications that the Caliph Muawiyah entered a few decades later with his daughter. According to the old chronicles she was suffering from a withered arm. After being baptized and prayed over by one of the monks, she was healed as well, confirming for the entire Muslim world the miraculous efficacy of Christian baptism.(4) The “Commander of the Faithful” (as Tom Holland reports him to be called), who counted his Jacobite Christian subjects as full-fledged members of the Faithful, understood that, since the majority of the people he now ruled over were Christians, it would be helpful to work with them and with their beliefs. It was also a shrewd policy to use their theological grievances with the Byzantines to pull them closer to the Arabs and to expand his empire.(5)

Now that we’ve reviewed this brief foray into early Christians baptizing Muslims, we have sufficient background to meander through another related topic which Charles and I briefly discussed this week. That would be the relationship between churches and mosques in Syria after the Islamic conquest, as studied by art historian Professor Mattia Guidetti. Guidetti has observed that early mosques in the major cities often were located alongside churches, and, in some rare cases, inside churches. For our purposes we should direct our attention to the city in western Syria, known to the Faithful as Emessa, but now referred to these days as Homs. Guidetti writes,
“Modern scholars have included the early Muslim house of worship among those obtained by requisitioning a portion of a late antique church. Following the evidence offered in the written sources, the church in Homs is said to have been divided into two parts: one area kept by the Christians and the other used as a mosque. (…)

An octagonal Christian structure has recently been discovered near the Friday mosque. This discovery confirms that the mosque stands on an earlier Christian site but does not help to clarify what really happened after the conquest.”(6)

Professor Guidetti doesn’t want to draw any conclusions here, but it just so happens that we here at Zenpundit are known to do just that on occasion. We can perhaps offer some clarity on this subject. The octagonal structure was obviously a baptistery. There is a hint at this a little further down in the paper where the church is described by an 8th century Christian pilgrim as “the large church built by St Helena, in honour of John the Baptist”. That would be the same John who offered that healing baptism of repentance, and this healing baptism was the avenue on which Muslims made inroads into the culture of the defeated Christians.

Baptisteries have a long history as part of churches. The one found in Emessa probably resembled the picture at the top of the page. This is the Palaeo-Christian Baptistery of Santa Maria Maggiore in southern Spain. It was built in the 6th century in the style of the Byzantine architecture of the day. The eight-sided architecture not only provided sound structural integrity. It provided a spiritual scaffolding as well.

The most common interpretation is that the octagonal shape represents the resurrection of Christ. St. Ambrose is purported to have inscribed on the 4th century baptistery found below the Milan Cathedral:

“Eight-niched soars this church destined for sacred rites,
eight corners has its font, which befits its gift.
Meet it was thus to build this fair baptismal hall about this sacred eight:
here is our race reborn” (7)

A symbol of rebirth that the Arabs used to great effect for their Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem and with their baptistery-like bank vault at the Damascus mosque.

A symbol of the highest ascendency of the select Faithful as in Matthew 25:31-32

And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats.

by the intercessions of the most symbolically powerful number in Revelation 8:2-3

And I saw seven angels standing in the presence of God; and there were given to them seven trumpets. And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God.

Echoed explicitly in the Quranic 69th sura’s “Inevitable Truth” of conquest:

And the angels are at its edges. And there will bear the Throne of your Lord above them, that Day, eight [of them].

The Arab conquerors appropriated architecture and scripture, so it isn’t surprising that they also seized onto sacramental rituals. As we saw in Assyria, the mystical powers attributed to baptism were attractive to the point of bewitching. History professor Jack Tannous writes in his magnum opus dissertation “Syria Between Byzantium and Islam” that sacraments such as baptism and Eucharist were thought to bestow on the recipient supernatural powers and protections.

“People were taking the wooden naqusha — or semantron == and were baptizing it in baptismal waters, a practice Jacob [of Edessa, bishop and monk who translated the Greek bible into Syriac] decried as not even being Christian. The naqusha was being baptized to make it more effective against hail-bearing clouds: people would take it outside and bang on it to prevent hail from falling. They would do the same thing with the cross from churches and the Eucharistic elements. Jacob did permit the use of the naqusha, cross and elements for these purposes, so long as it was done in faith and so long as the naqusha had not been baptized…’Let rather only the waters which are blessed on the night of Epiphany be given for healing and blessing.’”(8)

The baptismal festival of Epiphany, or Eid al-Ghitas in Arabic, became a celebration for Muslims as well as Christians. The Orthodox feast of Christ’s baptism possFaoes doribly has roots in the pre-Christian world. A mid to late winter washing ritual that is performed after the temperatures in the Near East would’ve begun to rise, with rivers still at their nadir and holding the purest waters of the year. It was normal for Arabs to join the baptismal feast because it was a practice that was already ingrained in the peoples of the region.

It became so widespread that by the 12th century a special baptismal rite was established specifically for Muslims. According to Tannous, “Miaphysite Bishop John of Marde prescribed that Muslim children were to be given a different baptism, one for the remission of sins—what he called the ‘baptism of John [the Baptist]’:

There shall only be for them a service of
repentance, that is: a cycle and a prayer and a hymn of repentance, etc. Let the priest baptize the children of the Arabs as he says the following: I baptize this so-and-so in the name of the Lord with this baptism of John for the forgiveness of trespasses and the remission of sins. Amen. And let them anoint them with ordinary oil.

What we have here is an attempt to regulate and control what must have been a very widespread practice.”

It may sound strange to us in the modern West, but considering the political and cultural dynamics of the day, sharing sacred spaces and sacred rituals wasn’t all that unusual in Late Antiquity Syria and Mesopotamia. The region was a crossroads for many cultures in the first place. Islam was a new religion that, despite the beliefs of its most fervent adherents, took several centuries to fully develop while ironically soaking up influences from the tribes it was conquering. Christians who were already divided by obscure theological issues, found themselves cut off from the Byzantine Oikoumene. Some welcomed it, some mourned it, but for all Christians their remaining identity was intertwined with and dependent on their religious community and its rituals. Leaning on them, sharing them, and even wielding them was their key to survival.

Well that’s that. I could probably go on and on about this subject, but I’ve said too much already. Thanks to Charles and Mark for letting me share my ramblings. One addendum that might be of interest to Charles is another bit of comparative culture from Tannous’ book on Sufism,

“Sufism: Massignon pointed out that a number of ‘theological and ascetic’ words used by Sufis were of Aramaic (Jewish or Christian) origin and also pointed to various ‘structural analogies’ between elements of Sufism and Christian and Jewish parallels as well as the fact that ‘a certain number of ascetic Islam’s early works seem to be free transpositions of Christian writings;’ this should come as no surprise, for there is evidence for widespread contact between early Muslim ascetics and Christian monks; in this vein, early Muslim ascetics were fond of quoting Jesus; indeed, the word ‘Sufi’ itself is said to refer to woolen garments worn by Muslim ascetics, perhaps in imitation of the Christian monks whom they interacted with; Muslims themselves made this connection in the early medieval period: ‘Hammad b. Abi Sulayman went up to Basra,’ ‘Abu Nu‘aym al-Isbahano (d. AH 430/AD 1038) reported, ‘and Farqad al-Sabakhi [d. AH 131/AD 748] came to him to him and on him was a garment of wool (thawb suf), and so Hammad said to him: ‘Remove from yourself this Christianity of yours!’; that the first Sufi ribat was established in the hotbed of monasticism that was Syria has been pointed to as another point of contact with Christianity.”(9)

Evidence that fundamental elements of Sufism predate Islam, possibly also predating Christianity.

Bibliography

(1) Wilmshurst (2000) The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East 1318-1913 (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium) p.11
(2) Patrologia Orientalis 13 (1919) p.597
(3) Budge (2009) The Histories of Rabban Hormizd the Persian and Rabban Bar-Idta pp.101-103
(4) Patrologia Orientalis 13 (1919) p.594
(5) Holland (2012) In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire p.365
(6) Guidetti (2013) The contiguity between churches and mosques in early Islamic Bil?d al-Sh?m p.10
(7) Bowersock, Brown, Grabar (1999) Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World p.333
(8) Tannous (2010) Syria between Byzantium and Islam: Making Incommensurables Speak p.301
(9) Ibid pp.497-498

Mourning the lost Ka’aba

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

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As sea levels rise, so also..

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I am truly sorry to say this, but as
the globe warms, so warms the cube..

A heatwave emanating from a black stone
sweeps the desert:
will hit and kill pilgrims, is
already hitting and killing handfulls
among the millions of pilgrims
as they approach the stone,
but there will be –
I am truly sorry to say this,
may God forfend it —
there will be disasters at the stone,
hundreds, thousands dead of sheer heat exhaustion,
and the government will order
stricter controls on pilgrims,
that they be in best health,
physician verified,
that they carry much water
against dehydration,
wishing the sun itself were other
than it is, under the mercy,
where no legislation can forestall it,
attempting traffic control
against a myridad photons, light
in the niche for lights.

Pilgrimage is compulsory, thus
after the city has been shut down,
the last strays and hiders
pried from their places by special police,
some few from around the gasping
globe still will strive
with devotion
to make their way toward Mecca
and the cube on the globe,
the black stone,
some, after the last police have withdrawn,
still arriving, circling the stone,
holding tight to the thought that Ali
was born within the cube,
athirst with devotion, with dehydration
ablaze, pressing in to die
where Ali was born,
and one, one shall be the last to die there.

I grieve for that last, now,
some few decades ahead of the obvious,
to which we are oblivious —
the oncoming, blasphemous, wave.


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