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Rumi One: the poet and his poems

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — first of four posts on the poet Jalal al-Din Rumi, hugely popular, perhaps soon to be the pivot of a blockbuster movie ]
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Rumi has been in the news recently and in Rumi Three I’ll say a bit about why. But first, in this post, Rumi One, I’ll say something about the poet and his poems — leaving his ineffable spiritual attainments ineffable, since if they’re anything, they’re ineffable — and in Rumi Two I’ll consider a current attack on Rumi and “Rumism” in Turkey, little observed in the western press, which may be of interest to the poet’s many followers here. Rumi Four will contain some recommended readings.

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Let’s start with some praise of Rumi from Will McCants:

It’s a powerful poet who turns a scholar to the study of his language, the better to read him.

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I’ve been reading Rumi at least since the first Arberry translations of his Mystical Poems came out in 1968, and in the mid-eighties between then and now had the delight and privilege of doing a joint poetry reading with his more recent translator / popularizer, Coleman Barks, at Lake Tahoe.

I’m in no way surprised — but yes, delighted — that a scholar of McCants’ stature should appreciate Rumi so warmly, and envious of his ability to read the Divan, the Masnavi, the Discourses in the original. Did not the great poet Jami write of Rumi’s Masnavi that it is “the Qur’an in the Persian tongue”?

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Here’s the poem with which Chicago University Press introduces Arberry’s Mystical Poems of Rumi:

My verse resembles the bread of Egypt—night passes over it, and you cannot eat it any more.
Devour it the moment it is fresh, before the dust settles upon it.
Its place is the warm climate of the heart; in this world it dies of cold.
Like a fish it quivered for an instant on dry land, another moment and you see it is cold.
Even if you eat it imagining it is fresh, it is necessary to conjure up many images.
What you drink is really your own imagination; it is no old tale, my good man.

Set beside this, another comment of Rumi’s, considering his poetry:

I am affectionate to such a degree that when these friends come to me, for fear that they may be wearied I speak poetry so that they may be occupied with that. Otherwise, what have I to do with poetry? By Allah, I care nothing for poetry, and there is nothing worse in my eyes than that. It has become incumbent upon me, as when a man plunges his hands into tripe and washes it out for the sake of a guest’s appetite, because the guest’s appetite is for tripe.

The secular mind may think of that second quote as something of a pose, imagining the poetry of a great poet to be the poet’s own primary concern — but the poems of Rumi themselves, like the poems of St John of the Cross, speak of a love of the divine of which the poetry itself can be but an offshoot, a byproduct.

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There are none so happy, I would suggest, as those who keep company with the lovers of the divine beloved, and it is that companionship that I see depicted in the poem of Rumi’s I most treasure:

Little by little the drunkards congregate, little by little the wine-worshippers arrive.
The heart-cherishers coquettishly come along the way, the rosy-cheeked ones are arriving from the garden.
Little by little from the world of being and not-being the not-beings have departed and the beings are arriving.
All with skirts full of gold as a mine are arriving for the sake of the destitute.
The lean and sick from the pasturage of love are arriving fat and hale.
The souls of the pure ones like the rays of the sun are arriving from such a height to the lowly ones.
Blessed is that garden, where, for the sake of the Mary’s, new fruits are arriving even in winter.
Their origin is grace, and their return is grace; even from the garden to the garden they are coming.

Indeed, that grace, that garden is woven throughout Rumi’s poetry:

The springtide of lovers has come, that this dust bowl may become a garden; the proclamation of heaven has come, that the bird of the soul may rise in flight.

And where is that garden, when is that springtide of lovers?

Alfred North Whitehead was thinking of education as a stepped-down version of that same garden when he wrote:

The present contains all that there is. It is holy ground; for it is the past, and it is the future. … The communion of saints is a great and inspiring assemblage, but it has only one possible hall of meeting, and that is, the present, and the mere lapse of time through which any particular group of saints must travel to reach that meeting-place, makes very little difference.

Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — delicious irony in the twitter stream as a teaching tool re middle east ]
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Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms, it’s a breath of fresh air / splash of wet water for me to read Hayder al-Khoei, scion of the eminent al-Khoei family and Chatham House Fellow, tweeting on the subject of the English football hooliganism in Marseille over the last three days, which has included both bottle-throwing against French riot police and a running battle with a pack of Russian supporters brandishing knives:

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Al-Khoei‘s observations offer us a brilliant parody of the way western analysts, myself included, all too often write about events in the Middle East, and I admire his skill in delivering his reproof — but it’s also worth remarking that England as I understand it seems less and less interested in attendance at its established Protestant church, while France is notable for it’s official laïcité. Indeed, of the three nations involved in this circus, only the Russians appear to be experiencing quite a resurgence of Orthodoxy, coming after decades of official atheism.

Enfin:

The England v Russia match was a 1-1 draw. Game theorists would presumably call the event a zero-sum game, since the two sides do seem to have cancelled each other out — but in the larger context of sectarian rivalry, the entire three days have surely been lose-lose, while al-Khoei‘s wit is a win for us all.

Sheesh!

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — I can find no words to convey my disgust ]
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And what’s worse:

The Cat and the Database

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

[ By Charles Cameron — of knotted cords, corporal punishment and external memory ]
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Tablet DQ 600 quipu cat-o'nine-tails 75

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I have long toyed with the idea of the Quipu as a variant HipBone game-board, as exemplified here:

QuipuBoard

I hadn’t until now considered the cat-o’-nine-tails in the same light.

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This particular ramble began when I saw this tweet:

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Reading that tweet set me wondering, not for the first time, what punishments were like in the Royal Navy, say 150 or 200 years ago — not so very many generations in the grand torrent of time.

I hail from a Royal Naval family, and hadn’t until today realized quite how recently fierce corporal punishment had been a part of RN training. This image shows the punishment known as Twelve Cuts administered on HMS Ganges, as recalled from his own early years by the singer Jimmy Lee of the Edge of Chaos Orchestra:

Corporal Punishment Jimmy Lee HMS Ganges

A few pertinent details:

Before receiving his punishment, the young man would be given a medical inspection (“the boy’s buttocks are examined and his general physical condition observed” — Admiralty, 1950). He was then marched to the ship’s tailor to be fitted into a pair of extra-thin tropical-weight white cotton duck trousers, with — at least on HMS Ganges — no underwear allowed. (The Admiralty wrote in 1950 that the latter provision “allows the strokes of the cane to be as painful as need be”. They seem not to have been following their own rules, because the King’s Regulations in 1943 had amended the wording to “Caning on the breech, duck trousers with pants being worn”, but perhaps this was intended to apply only to seagoing ships and not the training ships.)

Perhaps some idea of the fruits of such training can be found in this impressive video of Ganges

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That image of the “cuts” brings back sore memories.. though my own treatment was far more lenient.

In my own youth, I was caned as early as age 6 and as late as age 17, the latter beating administered with sincere expressions of regret by my housemaster, the great archaeologist of the Assassins’ castles, Maj. Peter Willey. I’d admitted to doing the (London) Times crossword puzzle in the time allotted for my maths homework, and school regulations left him with no option — I had no option, either.

Six with a bamboo cane was the worst I suffered, so I can barely imagine what twelve cuts, let alone a hundred lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails, would be like.

Discipline, lad: chin up.

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Image sources:

  • Wikimedia, Cat-o’-nine-tails
  • Wikimedia, Quipu
  • I’m no historian, so cannot vouch for the quality of these materials — but my readings today included:

  • Roger Davies, Stringing together a database
  • C. Farrell, Corporal punishment in the Royal Navy
  • Edge of Chaos Orchestra, Jimmy Lee bio
  • Jimmy Lee – The Runaway, Naval Punishment
  • EyeWitness to History, A Flogging at Sea, 1839
  • Njdeh Asisian on Iranian eschatology at SWJ

    Monday, May 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — one selection from a much longer piece, followed by a CAVEAT LECTOR in red and a note about the Houthis ]
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    Imam Mahdi will capture minds
    Mahdist image from a Haroun Yaha fansite in Pakistan — representing a Sunni variant eschatology in the school of Bediüzzaman Said Nursî, see Yahya’s official website, also an academic analysis of Yahya’s work at The Mahdi wears Armani — a distant cousin to the Shia and Sunni doctrines below

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    Okay, I posted the image above for its delightful AE Van Vogt science-fictionality. Now to the serious topic at hand.

    Here’s the “Globalization and Eschatological-Apocalyptical Approach” section of Njdeh Asisian, Shia Iran and Effects of Globalization on State and Religion: The Beginning of Post-Islamism Era:

    Eschatological-Apocalyptical analysts, without paying attention to what is going on within their own backyard, believe that the globalization provides tremendous opportunities for the expansion of the global reach of Shia Islam. The other side of this statement is also true when you read carefully between lines. The same Eschatological-Apocalyptical analysts believe that globalization negatively impacts the Islamic Republic because of its influence on Iranian civic society and the continuous weakening of the religious component of the Republic (Shia Islam). In other words, the Islamic Republic’s dilemma cannot be solved unless there is a global Islamic state where secularization and liberal-democratic forces have been defeated by the universal Islamization of the international political system. Consequently, the Islamization of global political system will also put an end to the liberal tendencies of Iranian people. The best possible model for such a scenario is the Soviet Union. With collapse of the Soviet Union, the Marxist-Leninist parties and even countries have collapsed, one after another, due to the failure of ideological legitimacy.

    I will examine two types of “eschatological- apocalyptical” approaches to globalization. The first type is the realist approach in which adherents sought to prepare the ground for the political manipulation of the world order. The second type is to consider the globalization process through the Shia Eschatology.

    The realist approach searches to find ways and means to establish a structure and thought process which will eventually bring into power an Islamic political and legal system as a dominant power on the world stage. In the realist opinion, the Iranian revolution of 1979 should serve as a serious basis of a new beginning for globalization of Islam as a major power broker in the international political system. They mentioned that, “From the beginning, the nature of revolution and the Islamic movement was based on the culture and return back to our original identity which was based on the religious doctrine. Therefore, we witnessed a fact that the Iranian Islamic Republic’s constitution highly praised the goal of having a global government which governs by Monotheism and hoists the banner of ‘There is no God but Allah’ in all over the world.”

    At the same time, the realists promote the nature of global mission of the Iranian Revolution through the Iranian Constitution of 1979. In the constitution, religious identity and values are held in the highest possible place with the promise, made in the constitution, to assist all oppressed people around the world. They have envisioned the Iranian political system as the model for the future global Islamic order. At the same time, these Muslim intellectuals believe that they can offer something more important for human society, without rejecting the very essence of the globalization and technological advancements of our era.

    The first step of the realists is to establish the legal framework for the future world order. They consider Islam as the engine of change on the global level and they mentioned that “now days the world turns to religion to fill the spiritual and emotional gaps; further, the world came to acknowledge that liberal-democracy is not useful and it tries to improve the situation through spirituality. This new trend produces a significant opportunity for different religions, and especially for Islam, in order to provide the masses with true teachings.” Further, Shia Jurisprudence is one that can bring serious and positive changes in human life because it has a global nature and it can implement it all over the word; therefore, “One of the distinguished features of Islam that makes it more applicable to the phenomenon of globalization is the existence of political Shia Jurisprudence. The special trait of political Shia Jurisprudence is that it turned Islam [automatically global]; Islam is a pro-active religion that is capable of answering all challenges that human beings can face.”

    Besides the applicability of Islamic Jurisprudence at the global level which is theorized by religious scholars, Islamic Jurisprudence must be supported by sets of values that could be easily understandable and approachable by the masses. Therefore, the “Global Quranic Order is a desired system that had been promised to human beings. This system has structure and traits that is far different from the others. Creation of this Islamic Utopia is not possible unless [you] understand and recognize its peculiarities.” The most important pillars of this Islamic Utopia are “Global Quranic Order,” such as “Sovereignty belongs to God, Jurisprudence and Leadership, Unified Muslim Nation [Ummah], Unified Law [Fiqh], Justice, Rationality, Spirituality, Peace and Security, Good Life, Unified Language (Arabic as a Quranic language).”

    The theory of Islamic globalization, as described above, is a world that its advocates want to create. They compare and contrast the current globalization with their own Quranic Order. “They do not reject the current technological advancement nor do they reject urbanization, industrialization, development, capitalism, science, and technology, and all that these imply for the organization of society. In this sense they are not anti-modern. They accept modernization, and the inevitability of science and technology and the changes in life-style they bring. However, and most importantly, they are unreceptive to the ideas that they say are Westernized.” They argued that the current Western-style globalization is based on false teachings. Therefore, globalization is taking the wrong route. “In the Alavi culture, technology is used for better living and the perfection of human beings and whatever improves the technological advancement is acceptable. In contrast, in the Western culture the technological advancements are used for profit and the capitalist culture is based on liberalism, individualism and hedonism which concluded in plunder of 99 percent of the population in favor of the 1 percent.”

    The above mentioned Muslim scholars are providing theoretical grounds for an Islamic global government or empire. Naturally, these Muslim scholars resent the ideological part of globalization, where the liberal-democratic values have a dominant position in the global system. In other words, they want the technological advancements of the West without the ideology that is attached to it. A question arises here concerning what type of socio-economic system or platform they propose in order to keep up with the technological and economic creativity at the global level. It is obvious that no one can govern the world with just good wishes and ideology.

    I move now from the realist theorists, who sought to establish an earthly Islamic Utopia, to the theocratic approach of Islamic globalization, where Shia Eschatology will change the world order beyond repair and establish a heavenly government on earth through the reappearance of the “12th Imam, Mehdi.”

    In some Iranian writings regarding globalization and Islam, we see analysis that is a mixture of globalization theories, futurism, and the Shia Eschatology about the Mehdi. Muslims, regardless of whether they are Shia or Sunni, believe that one day the savior of the world or Lord of Ages, Mehdi, will appear in order to reestablish the justice, global governance and expanse of Islam all over the world.

    In the Iranian case, we see the Shia version of Mehdi is somehow different from what Sunnis believe. The authors of these articles that call themselves “Mahdavist” have no faith in the current globalization processes. These authors are futuristic; they are analyzing international relations, geopolitics, socio-political relations, and economics of a society that does not exist, at least not yet. (Note: the other importance of this literature lies in the fact that the Iranian regime, due to its religious nature, cannot discount the religious belief system from interfering with what Kissinger called a Westphalian state that has specific commitments against the international community. However, many scholars and pundits do not look at the events in the Middle East through the lens of the religious belief system. Perhaps, this literature can assist them in understanding that the other side is preparing for an Eschatological end and even some activities may directly be connected to preparation for 12th Imams reappearance. The best example of this is Yemen. “Yemen plays a pivotal role in the Shia Eschatology”. Mahdavists have brought into Iranian globalization literature a phenomenon that is strictly religious. However, it is interesting to read and understand the religious scholars who are faithfully trying to analyze the religion through contemporary socio-political events. The other issue with these types of futuristic analysis is that there is no scientific literature or method that one can use to examine the validity of this claim. In other words, it is a religious belief system that one should accept by heart, rather than by scientific reason or methodology. The Mahdavists see the current globalization as a man-made phenomenon that has nothing to do with divine design for human beings.

    They consider globalization as being empty of spirituality and human value and it is materialistic. In contrast they consider that real globalization will be achieved through the Mehdi’s revolt against the tyrannical order of the world. In the Mahdavist world, “The true definition of globalization is putting effort into building the world based on the Islamic teachings and governing the world through Islamic values. This goal is the undeniable promise of God. It is a message of the Quran, and the prophecy of prophets. On balance, wisdom of [the Islamic globalization] is doable. All man-made cultures and ideologies are condemned to total defeat and annihilation.”

    Mahdavists believe that there is a close correlation between the reappearance of Mehdi and globalization. “The globalization that is based on liberalism, Omanism and secularism that propagated separation of church and state and rejected the system based on justice, is not acceptable for the global government of Mehdi. In contrast, the globalization that is acceptable is the one that does not pursue the domination of a specific culture, because all human beings are members of the global society. This type of globalization accepts multiculturalism, it accepts dialogue between civilizations, cultural understanding and access to shared values, mutual respect, international cooperation, and finally, the belief that global culture cannot swallow the other cultures, national or local”. Further, the global government of Mehdi cannot be considered as deterministic and cruel because it fulfills the prophet’s promises of global universal justice. Based on the Shia teachings, Mehdi will create a central government, a unified leadership and therefore, he will be able to end the main causes of conflict, wars and oppression.

    In the final analysis, the universal Islamic government will establish the Islamic Jurisprudence that will put an end to religious and linguistic plurality where everyone is Muslim and speaks Arabic as the Quranic language. At the same time, the religious Eschatological-Apocalyptical approach does not produce a realistic analytical solution for the problems that Iran faces in the globalized world. This is because they are analyzing and looking for an unknown future and there is no set time for the reappearance of Mehdi.

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    I’m offering this here without much commentary, since I lack Farsi and access to the various quoted sources. This footnote, however, may be of interest:

    Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end time”. The word arises from the Greek eschatos meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of”, first used in English around 1550. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as “The department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell’.

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    CAVEAT:

    I would however note this next footnote, and particularly the phrase, “According to our numerical analysis of the Quran”:

    For Sunni Muslims, the Mahdi (Mehdi) is a unique Muslim leader who will appear in the End Times and act as a Caliph, ruling the Muslim World. According to our numerical analysis of the Quran, it seems that the Mahdi will be fulfilling a divine mission and will act as a Witness, a Warner and a Carrier of Good News, so he could be considered a Messenger.

    This numerical anaysis appears to come from a site I’ve mentioned before [1, 2], Discovering Islam, which predicts:

    The End Times: Based on Numerical Analysis of the Quran, Hadith, Arabic Words, and Historical Events.

    Imam Mahdi in 2016
    Jesus Christ (p) in 2022

    I’d have to say that anyone quoting that site as though it is representative of Sunni Islam isn’t to be relied on for theological acumen. And that’s a serious defect, when writing about Shia Iran and Effects of Globalization on State and Religion

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    Finally — and bearing that caveat in mind — this footnote too may be of interest:

    Based on the Shia Eschatology, the first group of people who will come to 12th Imam’s assistance are Yemenis. Currently the “Shia Houtis” of Yermen are trying to take over the government and establish a Shia state by Iranian assistance. As far as the Iranian theocratic elite concern, the sole purpose of the current Houtis’ agenda is to prepare for 12th Imam’s occultation which will take place in one of the Mosques in Makah Saudi Arabia. 12th Imam will be under siege in Makah until Yemenis come to his assistance. The Yemeni reinforcement will be the beginning of the 12th Imam’s journey.

    And a minor point — just a typo — the Twelfth Imam’s occultation (ghayba) has already taken place: what is to be expected is his eventual return from occultation.


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