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Parallel wife-beating, Pakistan and Saudi

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — offensive to our sensibilities, yes, but far from the worst thing going on ]
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**

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.

Tweet and response: polling religious interest globally?

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Pew — Iran? Saudis? ]
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Here’s the tweet:

It looks impressive, doesn’t it? The good folks at Pew have obvisouly done their homework.

And here’s the response:

**

Even when people try to remember that religion is part of geopolitics, they seem to suffer from selective amnesia.

Aha!

Country-Survey-Map_WEB

The white spaces are either not countries, or not surveyed — a pity either way.

Furthermore, once we’ve got that covered, we’ll need two polls that dig deep & narrow for every one that digs wide & shallow. Oy.

Yesterday’s learnings in science and religion

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — theo-ecology, with a side of spaghetti ]
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First, a Nobel laureate makes a distinction that should be of interest to all who study war — as also to those who “ain’t gonna study war no more”. Lucy Hughes-Hallett begins a New Statesman book review titled Chernobyl and the ghosts of a nuclear past thus:

“This not a book on Chernobyl,” writes Svetlana Alexievich, “but on the world of Chernobyl.” It is not about what happened on 26 April 1986, when a nuclear reactor exploded near the border between Ukraine and Belarus. It is about an epoch that will last, like the radioactive material inside the reactor’s leaking ruin, for tens of thousands of years. Alexievich writes that, before the accident, “War was the yardstick of horror”, but at Chernobyl “the history of dis­asters began”.

If we are not approaching the Eve of Destruction, nor the Zombie Apocalypse, nor an outbreak of nuclear war or some abominable plague, nor the Islamic Qiyama nor the Christian Armageddon, nor the drowning of our major coastal cities nor rapid heat death of most or all human life on earth, and if we forgo the notions of the anthropocene age, or the impoending singularity, why then the distinction that we have left the age of war (as teh major concern of the human race) and entered the age of disaster may be of interest, taxonomically speaking.

But I understand that last paragraph contains a vast “if” encompassing a large range of “nors”.

**

Okay, getting back to what I hope is the positive side of the ledger while keeping an eye of the negative, A Western Soto Zen Buddhist Statement on the Climate Crisis just came out:

As Buddhists, our relationship with the earth is ancient. Shakyamuni Buddha, taunted by the demon king Mara under the Bodhi Tree before his enlightenment, remained steady in meditation. He reached down to touch the earth, and the earth responded: “I am your witness.” The earth was partner to the Buddha’s work; she is our partner, as we are hers.

From the Buddha’s time, our teachers have lived close to nature by choice, stepped lightly and mindfully on the earth, realizing that food, water, medicine, and life itself are gifts of nature.

The Japanese founders of Soto Zen Buddhism spoke with prophetic clarity about our responsibility to the planet and to all beings. In Bodaisatta Shishobo/The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Dharmas Dogen Zenji, the founder of Japanese Soto Zen, wrote:

To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons are the activity of dana/giving.

**

One particular concern of mine has to do with the impact of global warming on the heartlands of Islam, and Mecca in particular, as mentioned here in an NYT piece titled Deadly Heat Is Forecast in Persian Gulf by 2100:

The research raises the prospect of “severe consequences” for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage that draws roughly two million people to Mecca to pray outdoors from dawn to dusk. Should the hajj, which can occur at various times of the year, fall during summer’s height, “this necessary outdoor Muslim ritual is likely to become hazardous to human health,” the authors predicted.

Here’s another distinction worth pondering, this one drawn from the same NYT piece, quoting Erich M. Fischer of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich:

Anyone can experience the fact that humidity plays a crucial role in this in the sauna. .. You can heat up a Finnish sauna up to 100 degrees Celsius since it is bone dry and the body efficiently cools down by excessive sweating even at ambient temperatures far higher than the body temperature. In a Turkish bath, on the other hand, with almost 100 percent relative humidity, you want to keep the temperatures well below 40 degrees Celsius since the body cannot get rid of the heat by sweating and starts to accumulate heat.

**

Staying with Islam, and parallel to the Zen declaration above, we have this Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. Section 2.8 reads:

In view of these considerations we affirm that our responsibility as Muslims is to act according to the example of the Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) who –

  • Declared and protected the rights of all living beings, outlawed the custom of burying infant girls alive, prohibited killing living beings for sport, guided his companions to conserve water even in washing for prayer, forbade the felling of trees in the desert, ordered a man who had taken some nestlings from their nest to return them to their mother, and when he came upon a man who had lit a fire on an anthill, commanded, “Put it out, put it out!”;
  • Established inviolable zones (harams) around Makkah and Al-Madinah, within which native plants may not be felled or cut and wild animals may not be hunted or disturbed;
  • Established protected areas (himas) for the conservation and sustainable use of rangelands, plant cover and wildlife.
  • Lived a frugal life, free of excess, waste, and ostentation; Renewed and recycled his meagre possessions by repairing or giving them away;
  • Ate simple, healthy food, which only occasionally included meat;
  • Took delight in the created world; and
  • Was, in the words of the Qur’an, “a mercy to all beings.”
  • **

    It is curious to find Walid Shoebat, a vigorously anti-Muslim Christian apologeticist, making some of the same points in a piece titled It Is Now Confirmed And Scientists Now Predict That Mecca Will Be Destroyed By Extreme Heat:

    While many will cry “global warming”, it will actually be the sun heating up (Deut 28.23,24) (Zech 14.17). Another form of judgement prophesied by Isaiah appears to be extreme heat – heat severe enough to kill people:

    ‘Therefore … the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left’ (Isa 24.6)

    The book of Revelation appears to speak of the same end time events and predicts extreme weather as part of God’s judgement upon the nations. There will be fierce, scorching heat:

    ‘The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat …’ (Rev 16.8,9)

    The Bible also predicted (as scientists now do) that Mecca will be “uninhabited”: “After her destruction, Babylon [Arabia] will merely be a home for demons, evil spirits, and scavenging desert creatures” (Revelation 18:1-2).

    **

    And finally, on a lighter note — sticking with religion, at least arguably, but definitely moving from science to science fiction, we have this (theological) ruling from a Nebraska federal district court in Cavanaugh v. Bartelt:

    This is not a question of theology: it is a matter of basic reading comprehension. The FSM Gospel is plainly a work of satire, meant to entertain while making a pointed political statement. To read it as religious doctrine would be little different from grounding a “religious exercise” on any other work of fiction. A prisoner could just as easily read the works of Vonnegut or Heinlein and claim it as his holy book, and demand accommodation of Bokononism or the Church of All Worlds. 6 See, Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (Dell Publishing 1988) (1963); Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (Putnam Publ’g Grp. 1961). Of course, there are those who contend—and Cavanaugh is probably among them—that the Bible or the Koran are just as fictional as those books. It is not always an easy line to draw. But there must be a line beyond which a practice is not “religious” simply because a plaintiff labels it as such. The Court concludes that FSMism is on the far side of that line.

    And may the force be with you — or what’s a metaphor?

    Win some, lose some

    Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — tensions between Iran and the Saudis extend to the morality police level ]
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    Tablet DQ 600 morality police

    **

    There’s a certain irony in the concept of “undercover” cops in a context where, as RFE/RL reports:

    Tehran’s police chief Hossein Sajedinia said that the male and female agents — numbering around 7,000 — will focus on issues such as “improper veiling and removal of veils inside cars,” as well as noise pollution and reckless driving.

    The tssue of “covering” has also been one of the problems with the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice:

    In 2002, 15 girls died in Mecca after the police prevented them from fleeing a burning building because they were not deemed to be appropriately covered.

    Sources:

  • NY Times, Saudi Arabia Moves to Curb Its Feared Religious Police
  • Radio Free Europe, Iran Launches Undercover Morality Unit
  • Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia — Cole Bunzel’s new paper

    Friday, February 26th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — contextualizing IS in terms of KSA, Abd al-wahhab and the Prophet, also an interior / eternal aspect of the “end times” ]
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    Cole Bunzel, speaking with Charlie Rose

    **

    As a poet, I keep my eyes peeled for the superposition of opposites in a small space. John Donne‘s great phrase, “At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow / Your trumpets, angels” manages to superpose the imaginary and actual, sacred and soon-to-be profane, flat earth and globe, in just four words, Shakespeare is even more concise with Rosalind‘s “you insult, exult, and all at once” in As You Like It, and Dylan Thomas is after the same effect in his line “Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray” in Do Not Go Gentle.

    The poet is after a world in miniature, the balance of contraries. And so it is that I was stopped dead in my tracks on reading Cole Bunzel‘s sentence at the end of the second paragraph of the Introduction to his new paper, The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States:

    One of those territories increasingly in its sights is Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest places and one-quarter of the world’s known oil reserves.

    Bunzel is a PhD student writing a paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, so I’m expecting to be informed, yes, but this immediate, strong duality catches my attention — and it’s followed immediately with another at the start of his third paragraph:

    The competition between the jihadi statelet and the Gulf monarchy is playing out on two levels, one ideological and one material.

    The ideological and the material — holy places and oil reserves — in both phrasing we can recognize the world in a nutshell. And Bunzel will sharpen that sense of duality throughout, by contrasting Saudi Arabia, where possession of the resources has arguably warped the purity of creed as Abd al-Wahhab prtoposed it, with the Islamic State, which at least as it sees itself has maintained that “original” purity, and is now in a struggle for the resources to propagate its vision of Tawhid across the face of the earth.

    As Bunzel puts it:

    The comparison worth noting is the one in the minds of the Islamic State’s jihadi thinkers, the idea that Saudi Arabia is a failed version of the Islamic State. As they see it, Saudi Arabia started out, way back in the mid-eighteenth century, as something much like the Islamic State but gradually lost its way, abandoning its expansionist tendencies and sacrificing the aggressive spirit of early Wahhabism at the altar of modernity. This worldview is the starting point for understanding the contest between the kingdom and the caliphate, two very different versions of Islamic states competing over a shared religious heritage and territory.

    Kingdom and caliphate: again, the elegant duality.

    **

    Let’s see now, how this duality — proclaimed, indeed in Bunzel’s title, The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States — plays out in his analysis:

    The new king has described Saudi Arabia as the purest model of an Islamic state, saying it is modeled on the example of the Prophet Muhammad’s state in seventh-century Arabia. “The first Islamic state rose upon the Quran, the prophetic sunna [that is, the Prophet’s normative practice], and Islamic principles of justice, security, and equality,” he stated in a lecture in 2011. “The Saudi state was established on the very same principles, following the model of that first Islamic state.” What is more, the Saudi state is faithful to the dawa (mission) of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, meaning Wahhabism, upholding the “banner of tawhid” and “calling to the pure faith — pure of innovation and practices having no basis in the Quran, sunna, and statements of the Pious Forbears.”

    The Islamic State makes the same claims for itself. It, too, models itself on the first Islamic state, as its early leadership stated upon its founding in October 2006: “We announce the establishment of this state, relying on the example of the Prophet when he left Mecca for Medina and established the Islamic state there, notwithstanding the alliance of the idolaters and the People of the Book against him.” Another early statement appealed to the Wahhabi mission, claiming that the Islamic State would “restore the excellence of tawhid to the land” and “purify the land of idolatry [shirk].”

    Compare and contrast — it’s one of the oldest tricks in the intellectual book, and maybe the most powerful.

    And it’s right there — the material in conjunction with the spiritual — from the beginning:

    This first Saudi-Wahhabi state was the product of an agreement reached between the chieftain Muhammad ibn Saud and the preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the small desert oasis of Diriyah in central Arabia. The two leaders agreed to support each other, the Al Saud supporting the Wahhabi mission and the Wahhabi missionaries supporting Saudi political authority.

    Religion and politics, politics and religion. Church and state, we might say, Caesar and God.

    **

    But I shouldn’t inflict too much by way of this “dual” poetic formalism on my readers…

    Bunzel details the three states at the juncture of Wahhabism and the House of Saud — “the first (1744–1818), the second (1824–1891), and the third (1902–present)” and proposes that we are now witnessing somethiung not unlike the genesis of a fourth:

    Indeed, the Islamic State is a kind of fourth Wahhabi state, given its clear adoption and promotion of Wahhabi teachings.

    But while the opposition Bunzel studies is between his third and fourth variants of Wahhabi-statehood, the analogy claimed in each of those cases is with the first.

    Given that the House of al-Saud is the military partner of al-Wahhab-derived theology in the first three cases, their claim to contimuity with the first Wahhabi state, and thus also with the Prophet’s original state in Medina, is readily made:

    The new king has described Saudi Arabia as the purest model of an Islamic state, saying it is modeled on the example of the Prophet Muhammad’s state in seventh-century Arabia. “The first Islamic state rose upon the Quran, the prophetic sunna [that is, the Prophet’s normative practice], and Islamic principles of justice, security, and equality,” he stated in a lecture in 2011. “The Saudi state was established on the very same principles, following the model of that first Islamic state.” What is more, the Saudi state is faithful to the dawa (mission) of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, meaning Wahhabism, upholding the “banner of tawhid” and “calling to the pure faith — pure of innovation and practices having no basis in the Quran, sunna, and statements of the Pious Forbears.”

    Similarly, Bunzel notes, IS has claimed since its beginnings in late 2006:

    We announce the establishment of this state, relying on the example of the Prophet when he left Mecca for Medina and established the Islamic state there, notwithstanding the alliance of the idolaters and the People of the Book against him.

    While IS aspires not only to theological continuity but to a greater theological fidelity to al-Wahhab’s original Wahhabi state than the current regime, it regards the current state of the House of al-Saud as depraved and corrupt, in a manner quite different from the Prophet’s Medinan state — ridiculing it as “Al Salul” after “a leader of the so-called ‘hypocrites’ of early Islam who are repeatedly denounced in the Quran.”

    The Saudi claim to be a Wahhabi state largely derives, let me suggest, from the al-Saud side of the original Wahhabi-Saudi alliance, while the Islamic State’s claim rests uniquely on the doctrine of al-Wahhab, viewed as a reformer who returned Islam to its original purity.

    Indeed, Bunzel can cite an article “distributed by the Islamic State’s semiofficial al-Battar Media Agency” as describing thee IS mission as “an extension of Sheikh [Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s] mission.” And the similarity extends not just to that mission, but also to the opposition it arouses:

    The author, who goes by Abu Hamid al-Barqawi, drew attention to the similar accusations made against the two states by their respective enemies, namely accusations of excess in the takfir (excommunication) and killing of fellow Muslims. He noted that both states were denounced as Kharijites, an early radical Muslim sect.

    Thus we see, from the perspective of the Islamic state, another dualism repeating itself across history: this time between the original Companions of the Prophet and the abhorred Kharijite heretics, and the present followers of al-Baghdadi’s claim to the Caliphate and the Kharijite House of al-Saud.

    In a further twist, both the House of al-Saud and Al-Qaida’s local branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, have accused the Islamic State precisely of being Kharijites, the Saudi Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al ash-Sheikh terming IS Kharijites who “believed that killing Muslims was not a crime, and we do not consider either of them Muslims”, while Jabhat’s spiritual adviser, Sami al-Aridi, has said:

    The swords that God ordered us to use are many. One of these swords is the one pointed at Kharijites. This group [IS] has provided solid proof that it is Kharijite.

    And who, again, are the Kharijites? I have quoted before now this hadith reported in Abu Dawud:

    The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “There will be dissension and division in my nation and a people will come with beautiful words but evil deeds. They recite the Quran but it will not pass beyond their throats. They will leave the religion as an arrow leaves its target and they will not return until the arrow returns to its notch. They are the worst of the creation. Blessed are those who fight them and are killed by them. They call to the Book of Allah but they have nothing to do with it. Whoever fights them is better to Allah than them.”

    **

    There is, of course, much more to Bunzel’s paper than I have captured here, but I would like to comment on one final issue, the one which I always return to — that of the end times, or eschatology. Bunzel writes:

    The Islamic State’s apocalyptic dimension also lacks a mainstream Wahhabi precedent. As William McCants, a scholar of jihadism at the Brookings Institution, has set out in detail in a book on the subject, the group views itself as fulfilling a prophecy in which the caliphate will be restored shortly before the end of the world. While the Saudi Wahhabis and the Islamic State Wahhabis share an understanding of end times, only the latter view themselves as living in them.

    In the light of our discussion above of the respective Islamic States of the Prophet himself at Medina, Abd al-Wahhab in conjunction with the original Saudi state, and the current Wahhabism of Baghdadi’s Caliphate, this naturally raises the question as to whether the Prophet’s Medina was an eschatological state, a topic which David Cook briefly addresses in the Introduction to Muslim Apocalyptic in his Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic:

    The research of some scholars has indicated that Muhammad himself was impelled by a powerful belief in the proximity of the Last Day. For example, the Prophet is quoted as saying that some that see him will live to see the Dajjal (the Muslim anti-Christ).

    Cook footnotes this claim with the following intriguing comment:

    Though I do not wish to overspeculate as to the significance of this belief upon Muslim history, one cannot help but notice that the question of why Muhammad did not designate a successor is frequently asked. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that he genuinely did not believe that there would be time enough before the end of the world for anyone to succeed him. The very fact of some sort of will would show a lack of faith in the immediacy of the End.

    Christianity, similarly, can be seen as an apocalyptic movement from its origin, with Christ similarly telling his followers “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1.15) and “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9.1).

    **

    Here if I may, I shall turn speculative and poetic.

    In his extraordinary reading of the Quran in The Apocalypse of Islam, Norman O Brown views the history of Islam as comprising “a series of decisive (requiring decision) apocalyptic moments, moments that will recur throughout a history that has no set end-point”:

    These moments must (through the action, the cooperation with God’s call by the believer’s response) break through the crust of the familiar way of doing business (whether globalized or traditional), and lead one to an action that will necessarily be historical and personal (towards purification) because the drive of God’s will is always towards unity, both within and without.

    The Islamic world today clearly anticipates the end times in the future, perhaps near, perhaps far, its date and hour necessarily unknown, and expects it to come upon us after various notable signs of the time have occurred –- the Shia with the return of the expected Twelfth Imam, now in ghayba or occultation, and the Sunni with the coming of the Mahdi and of the Prophet Issa (Jesus).

    With regard to those notable signs, at 47.18 in the Arberry translation the Quran asks:

    Are they looking for aught but the Hour, that it shall come upon them suddenly? Already its tokens have come; so, when it has come to them, how shall they have their Reminder?

    Brown quotes Louis Massignon as calling Sura 18, The Cave, “the apocalypse of Islam” — and further suggests we should not apply enlightenment notions of linear time to a book, the Quran, which is itself both Revelation and Word. The poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal, in a phrase reminiscent of earlier Jewish and Christian texts, says of the Quran, “whole centuries are involved in its moments.”

    Brown writes:

    There is an apocalyptic or eschatological style: every Sura is an epiphany and a portent; a warning, “plain tokens that haply we may take heed” (XXIV, 1). The apocalyptic style is totum simul, simultaneous totality; the whole in every part. Hodgson on the Koran: “almost every element which goes to make up its message is somehow present in any given passage.”

    Mathematicians will no doubt note the resonance here with the principle of holography, Buddhists with the Hua-Yen concept of the Jewel Net of Indra.

    Brown, again referencing Massignon, who along with Henry Corbin was one of the major sources of his insight into Islam:

    Massignon calls Sura XVIII the apocalypse of Islam. But Sura XVIII is a resume, epitome of the whole Koran. The Koran is not like the Bible, historical; running from Genesis to Apocalypse. The Koran is altogether apocalyptic. The Koran backs off from that linear organization of time, revelation, and history which became the backbone of orthodox Christianity … Islam is wholly apocalyptic or eschatological, and its eschatology is not teleology. The moment of decision, the Hour of Judgment, is not reached at the end of a line; nor by a predestined cycle of cosmic recurrence; eschatology can break out at any moment.

    The End is in the Beginning — or as Eliot would have it, “And the end and the beginning were always there. Before the beginning and after the end.”

    In the first sura on the Quran, al-Fatihah, The Opening, God is described first as “the All-merciful, the All-compassionate” (1.3), then as “Master of the Day of Doom” (1.4), and only then is there mention of humanity, in the words “Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succour” (1.5). According to a hadith reported in Tirmidhi, the Prophet said, “I was sent in the presence of the Final Hour.” To be present at the End, to be present at the Beginning — both are reminiscent of Christ’s extraordinary trans-temporal remark — perhaps the deepest teaching in the gospels, a true koan

    Before Abraham was, I am.


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