The image Pundita posted is of Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani, and those aren’t actual wigs, they’re photo-enhancements — here’s the original photo, from a research site “documenting the involvement of Russian-speaking foreign fighters in the Syrian conflict”:
Reading that site’s material on Shishani, I came across these very interesting paragraphs, with their unadorned descritption of how young jihadists misuse jihadist scholars and their rulings. From Nohchicho’s Interview with Muslim Shishani:
Alhamdulillah, in Syria there are a lot of great scholars who have a sea of knowledge, and when you ask them a question of any difficulty, they explain it so beautifully and distinctly, giving ayats, hadith and the history of the Companions, that there is no doubt. But I also noticed that these scholars are very far removed from what is actually happening here. They don’t participate in the activities of the jamaats, even when they are part of them. They are not aware of the subtleties of the jamaats’ programs, they mainly deal with questions of nikah [marriage], divorce and such matters. The main issues of the jamaat get solved by the students of these scholars. [The scholars] get remembered only when a jamaat needs a fatwa to legitimize its questionable actions.
The situation gets presented like this: Sheikh, I’m in the desert, I didn’t eat a thing for many days. There are pigs not far from here, and if I don’t eat their meat, then I’m going to die. What should I do? And of course the Sheikh gives an affirmative answer. And then they ask that he announce it publicly so that others don’t reproach them, and then they start using this fatwa even when they just get hungry. And the whole problem is that the Sheikh isn’t up to speed with what is really going on.
Having gotten to know the scholars and the situation, I realized one thing: if you want to know the truth, then ask the scholars the scope of the Sharia in the particular case, where Allah’s pleasure is, and stick to it as far as possible within your situation. And a scholar’s fatwa basically depends on how you present your situation to him. It depends on your conscience.
When we ask Sharia questions to a fighter, military questions to politicians, and political questions to Sharia experts, we will always run into mistakes. But if we learn to ask questions to specialists in their relevant fields, and if these experts don’t get into issues outside their competence, then it’s going to be easier for us to reach the truth.
I’d welcome any info about Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani’s affiliation — Junud al-Sham, if that still exists? AQ? ISIS? This is the first time I’ve run across him.
His title of Shahbaz (royal falcon) is associated with him because of the mystical and spiritual heights he attained. This is reflected in his own poetry: “I am the royal falcon, that has no (fixed) place i.e. I am always in flight; I cannot be contained in any place; I am the phoenix, that cannot be restrained in any symbol or form” (Qazi, 1971, p. 26).
The third title associated with saint’s name is Qalandar. Muhammad Hussain bin Khalaf Tabrizi, the writer of a famous Persian dictionary defines Qalandar as someone “so much spiritualized that he is free from social and customary inhibitions and taboos” (Mohammad, 1978, p.7). Many other references have used terms like, “intoxicated in spirituality” to define the term Qalandar. The title of Qalandar has been associated with three saints, Lal Shahbaz, saint Bu Ali Sharfuddin of Panipat and a female saint Rabia Basri (Mohammad, 1978).
A taste of his poetry gives a taste of the man:
I am burning with Divine love every moment.
Sometimes I roll in the dust,
And sometimes I dance on thorns.
I have become notorious in your love.
I beseech you to come to me!
I am not afraid of the disrepute,
To dance in every bazaar.
Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is both transgressive – a frequently overused term, yet entirely applicable in this instance – and transcendent.
It’s not always easy to get a fix on Sufi poet-saints. Consider this tale of Kabir, a Muslim from Varanasi, who obtained initiation from the Hindu saint Ramanand:
One of the most loved legends associated with Kabir is told of his funeral. Kabir’s disciples disputed over his body, the Muslims wanting to claim the body for burial, the Hindus wanting to cremate the body. Kabir appeared to the arguing disciples and told them to lift the burial shroud. When they did so, they found fragrant flowers where the body had rested. The flowers were divided, and the Muslims buried the flowers while the Hindus reverently committed them to fire.
Shahbaz Qalandar’s death seems similarly shrouded in mystery – so much so that the quai-authoritative Wikipedia entry for him reports both “Died: 19 February 1275 (aged 98-99) and “Lal Shahbaz lived a celibate life and died in the year 1300 at the age of 151. “
It is his death – considered as his marriage with the divine beloved – that is celebrated at the three-day urs (literally: marriage) festival, attended yearly in Sehwan by upwards of a half-million devotees, at which the divine love is glimpsed through a dance – the dhamaal – similar in function to, though not the same as, the sama dance of the dervish order order founded by Qalandar’s contemporary, Jalaluddin Rumi. The dancers’ characteristic experience is one of divine intoxication, mast.
It was Qalandar’s shrine / tomb that was the site of the IS-claimed bombing this week.
With appreciation & and hat-tip to Omar Ali, and condolences — also to Husain Haqqani, Raza Rumi, Pundita, and all those who live, work and or pray for a peaceable Pakistan.
The second of my five religions, Zen Buddhism, came about entirely as a consequence of a famous tale you allude to in your wonderful letter.
After quickly rocounting the tale in question — about the Zen patriarch Hui Neng and the “finger pointing at the moon” which should not be mistaken for the moon itself, he went on:
I spent a great deal of time that night meditating upon the gloriously full moon, a little about my finger, and a great deal about the space in between. Space. The space between. The space beyond. When I could be any or all of these, I went to bed. I thought to myself: How arbitrary it is that we should see ourselves as the finger, and as not-the-moon, when we might just as well consider ourselves the spaces in between – since without that, we could never be not-anything!
This lunar encounter served me well until about five years later I hit a terrifying crisis of identity when I lost faith in any ability to use words to communicate at all. I began to fray at the edges… If everyone’s words were their own symbols, how could we ever manage to communicate? Did we? Or were we just braying at each other at random, each one watching a different play on the stage we had been thrown together upon?
That phrase “the spaces in between” is particularly interesting when you think of it as referencing the space between word and what it refers to, the word “moon” and the up-there orb, the moon. You might think, “there’s no such space between, they’re in different realms, is all” — but there is a between, it’s the relationship. And that’s what all my HipBone & DoubleQuote Games are about — the relationship (mapped along a linking line, aka an “edge”) between two concepts (“nodes”). Because relationship is the essence of their antecedent, Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game. And of all relationships, perhaps those between name and thing, finger and moon, map and territory, moon and enlightenment, are among the most fascinating.
Consider, though, the relationship between person (genetically understood) and person (memetically understood), as in the case of persons of genius or great charisma.
Hermann Hesse played the Glass Bead Game himself, he tells us, in his garden, while raking leaves into the fire, and it consisted of figures he admired, talking across th4 centuries — “I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of the mind.” In his book, the Game does not consist of these people, but of their ideas — disembodied, if you will.
The genetics / memetics difference shows up elsewhere in intriguing ways. Should Peter, the closest disciple, lead the church after Christ‘s death, or James, his blood brother? — that’s the Jerusalem vs Rome controversy that plays out in the background to the New Testament. Should his followers follow Brigham Young, his closest disciple, after Joseph Smith‘s death. or a family member? When Kabir, the poet-saint of India died, his Hindu followers wanted to cremate his remains, his Muslim followers to bury him — when they uncovered his body, they found (so the tale is told) that it had turned to roses, and were thus able to divide his remains and perform both ceremonies.
Family has a claim to the person, discipleship has a claim to the inspiration. Funny, that.
During the Enlightenment at the end of the 17th century and the start of the 18th, a disparate group of intellectuals in Europe and the United States engaged in a long-distance discourse that became know as the Republic of Letters, or Respublica Literaria. It was one of the first transnational movements, and scholars have endlessly debated its relevance and influence upon the dramatically proclaimed Age of Enlightenment it heralded. Personally, I feel no need to explain this in terms of cause and effect – the Republic of Letters was simply the written discourse of a movement that was changing the way people thought about their relationship with the world.
It is a seldom noticed fact that while anyone who can read and write could write a letter, very few actually do – and fewer still in our current era, what it is tempting to call the Age of Distraction. Letters, rather than say postcards and other friendly waves expressed in writing, involve a kind of engagement that has become rather rare these days. A letter invites a response, asks us to think about something, requests insight from another perspective… Letters are conversations at a slow enough pace to allow the correspondents to think a out what they are saying. I would like to suggest that it takes a particular kind of introvert to engage in letter writing in this sense – a quiet soul not content to bury themselves in just their solitary activities, but willing and able to reach out in words to another, similar person. I love a good conversation in a pub or bar, or at a conference, or even on a long journey, but as enjoyable as these forms of discourse may be for me they cannot adequately substitute for the pleasure of the letter.
For Chris, blog posts are the current equivaoent of letters, and what he terms The Republic of Bloggers is a latter day equivalent of the Republic of Letters of yore.
It is similar in spirit to Col. Pat Lang‘s Committee of Correspondence, Sic Semper Tyrannis, except that there all the correspondents correspond on the one blog.
The Republic of Letters is a concept I very much appreciate, and I have tried to embody it both here and in my time at the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge platform a decade ago.
Look at the still-life at the top of this post. What do you see? If you tell me you see the Virgin Mary and the Mystery of her giving birth to the Christ, either you are already familiar with the painting, made famous in this era by Morton Lauridsen’s explanation of how it inspired his version of O Magnum Mysterium. Or you are steeped in the symbolism of the High Church and/or the use of Christian symbols in art.
I’m sorry but the symbolism is so abstract that those are the only ways to read Mary and the Virgin Birth into a painting of fruit, a flower, and a cup of water, although I’ll concede the symbolism could have been understood by well-educated Christians centuries ago in Europe.
Lauridsen himself did not understand the symbolism of the painting when he first saw it — a point he does not make clear to readers in his 2009 article for The Wall Street Journal about the painting It’s a Still Life That Runs Deep, and its role in inspiring his version of OMM.
That post was in response to something I’d sent her, recommending Lauridsen’s work. More “Republic of Bloggers” style communication!
Chance reading the other day brought me to Jacob Mikanowski‘s piece, Camera-phone Lucida, in which i found:
The first society to experience the problem of having too much money and too much stuff, the Dutch had multiple genres of food-related still lifes, each dealing in a different level of luxury. They began with the humble ontbijtjes, or breakfast paintings, to the slightly more elaborate banketjestukken or “little banquets,” and on to the kings of them all, the pronkstilleven, from the Dutch word for “ostentatious.” The “little breakfasts” were the domain of simple food: a plate of herrings, a freshly baked bun, a few olives, maybe a peeled lemon for a bit of color. The atmosphere in these canvases is orderly and Calvinist. By contrast, in the pronkstilleven, the prevailing mood is one of jubilant disorder. Lobsters perch precariously on silver trays. Tables are strewn with plates of oysters, overturned tankards, baskets spilling over with fruit, scattered nuts and decorative cups. Cavernous mincemeat pies jostle with lutes and the occasional monkey.
For a century scholars have sought a deeper meaning in these and other still lifes. A half-eaten cheese stood for the transubstantiated body of Christ; walnuts represented him on the cross — the meat of the nut was his flesh, the hard shell was the wood of the cross he died on.
And so — inside or outside th Republic of Bloggers — the conversation flows..
And if Morten Lauridsen can wring such beauty from a reading of symbolism in Zurbarán, let him do so!
[ by Charles Cameron — what carves memory? blood is spilled, song carries grief and anger across centuries ]
One hundred years ago, Irish blood was spilled in the Easter Uprising of 1916, as Sinéad O’Connor & The Chieftains call us to remember in The Foggy Dew:
As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum no battle drum did sound it’s loud tattoo
But the Angelus bell o’er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew
The bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Easter-tide in the spring of the year
While the world did gaze in deep amaze at those fearless men but few
Who bore the fight that freedom’s light might shine through the foggy dew
While some may see in the Uprising a merely political fight, in song the religious element — Easter morn, the Angelus bell, the Requiem bell — add Catholic poignancy to memory.
One hundred years.
Memory can linger long past a hundred years, as we in our rush to be the first into the future may forget. Let the Chieftains again remind us, with O’Sullivan’s March:
Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare marched in 1602 — as Shakespeare was penning All’s Well That Ends Well and Othello?
A doff of the cap is due here to blog-friend Pundita , who pointed me in the direction of this post with her own Don’t ask me why, because..:
Ah, but Pundita also deerves a bow for her most recent post, Can the griots lead us home? — wherein she pointed me to a music of great joy, that of Oumou Sangaré:
If you watch enough videos of Oumou singing (there must be a zillion of them posted to YouTube) you’ll see that in many of her performances she has a highly conversational way of singing. You feel as if she’s talking directly to you. Sometimes it’s as if she’s talking to you in the manner of a defense attorney making an argument to a judge; others as if she’s chatting about something over lunch with you.
Here is a hunting song:
I think the ability to set up a very personal communication through song is the mark of a real griot, although after watching about 50 of her videos I think Oumou represents a tradition that I suspect goes back much earlier even than the griot clans — to a time when certain people in a tribe were interlocutors between humans and natural forces and helped settle disputes between members of tribes, and did so through the power of their voices to project a wide range of emotions.
Mali, at a time of violent upheaval — yet such joy in dance and song:
We have statistics for which nations suffer the most losses in war and terror, which export the most weapons, which nations invade, and which are invaded — but what of joy?
Years ago, in a book that sank like a stone, I suggested the concept of a Subtle National Product. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan apparently beat me to it, when he declared in the 1970s:
Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.
His Majesty came up with the idea first, I now see and gladly admit — but I still prefer my own pohrasing!
Joy, it seems to me, isn;t easily quantified, although Bhutan does have an Index:
Here are some conparative stats across nations, ethnicities and faiths I’d be interested in:
deaths in warfare, civilian, irregular, and military
numbers of children pressed into war
numbers of those maimed, displaced and or grossly mentally disturbed by war
depth of grief, as meaaured in forms of keening and ululation
degree of exuberance, as found in music and dance, popular and professional
ritual solemnity and grandeur, on religious and state occasions
quantity of written poetry bought or borrowed from libraries
size of audiences for spoken poetry readings
number of poets (in particular) imprisoned for their writings
Qualitative equivalents of these values would also be of interest, though even harder to obtain and verify in any objective manner..
[ by Charles Cameron — beauty is in the viewfinder of this beholder ]
Two bodies of water:
Tobago Wave, photograph by Ernst Hass, with permission of the Ernst Haas Estate
The closest correlation to this image that comes to mind is from Genesis:
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
I’d like us to explore this juxtaposition of two bodies of water a little farther. Here, for instance, is Terence Stamp, retelling The Tale of the Sands from Idries Shah‘s Tales of the Dervishes:
And to bring that tale, lyrical as it is, home to the realities of twenty-first century living — and indeed the context of national security — consider the matter of the Rios Voadores or Flying Rivers, as described in a National Geographic piece this February, Quirky Winds Fuel Brazil’s Devastating Drought, Amazon’s Flooding:
The loop starts in the Atlantic Ocean, where the winds carry moisture westward over the Amazon. Some falls as rain, but as the air passes, it also absorbs moisture from trees. When these “flying rivers” hit the Andes, they swing south, showering rain over crops and cities in eastern Bolivia and southeastern Brazil.
Beginning a year ago, however, a phenomenon called “atmospheric blocking” transformed that wind pattern. Marengo, a senior scientist at the Brazilian National Center for Early Warning and Monitoring of Natural Disasters (CEMADEN), likens this to a giant bubble that deflected the moisture-laden air, which instead dumped about twice the usual amount of rain over the state of Acre, in western Brazil, and the Bolivian Amazon, where Cartagena lives.
At the same time, cold fronts from the south, which cause precipitation over São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, were shunted aside, and as the system lingered, the drought took hold ..
Among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change. Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.
I have an analytic post forthcoming on Lapido Media about Water shortages and violence in the Middle East. A hat tip to blog-friend Pundita, who has been blogging intensively on water shortages recently [1, 2, eg]. And my grateful thanks to Victoria Haas for her gracious permission to use her father’s superb photograph at the head of this post.
The master’s eye — to catch the two-in-oneness of sky and sea, cloud and wave, water and water so exactly, in so balanced a form.. and then, within that massive, unmissable symmetry in blue and green, the milder asymmetries he captures of left and right — the billowing, the surging. Exquisite.
It is Sunday: treat yourself to a viewing of his portraits of Marilyn Munroe, of Jean Cocteau, of Albert Einstein, his extraordinary Sea Gun. Who has both the wanderlust to find and the eye to see such a thing?
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.