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Eclipsing the Sun, and reaching the Limit, in religious texts

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — two footnotes in the study of religions ]
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There are plentiful references in prophetic and apocalyptic writings to eclipses of the sun, but I’d like to suggest that religious texts suggest an alternative to darkness as the result of a solar eclipse — the “divine light” knowwn to mystics.

Thus in the commentary to Howard Schwartz‘ novella The Four Who Entered Paradise we find:

It is significant that elsewhere this primordial light is said to have had the power to “eclipse the light of the sun,” just as the primordial Adam was so splendorous as to “eclipse the light of the sun.” And in size this primordial Adam extended “from one end of the universe to the other,” like the light that enabled him to see “from one end of the universe to the other.”

When we read “signs of the times” which include eclipses of the sun, we might do well to remember this possible interpretation, referring to a spiritual rather than a physical eclipse.

Consider, for instance Revelation 21.23:

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

**

Likewise, the Prophet Muhammadwas was enabled to see Jibril at the lote tree, which marks the farthest boundary near the garden, the boundary beyond which human knowing, physical and spiritual, cannot penetrate, beyond which Jibril dare not fly lest his wings burn. Sura 53. 10-18:

So did Allah convey the inspiration to His Servant what He (meant) to convey.
The heart in no way falsified that which he saw.
Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw?
For indeed he saw him at a second descent,
Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass:
Near it is the Garden of Abode.
Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!)
(His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong!
For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!

Muhammad also visits “the farthest mosque” — but being unable to recall its details, is given another vision of it, from which he is able to describe it…

Coronavirus meets religion #1

Monday, March 16th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick miscellany ]
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The Vatican:

Starting fairly near home, depending on your flavor of the local religion, the Pope in Rome lives in the Vatican — an independent absolute monarchy wholly enclosed by Italy, and unable to escape the virus sweeping its host nation. The Vatican has now reported its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.

The Pope, accordingly, has delivered his usual public Sunday Mass by video conference, and instructed the pries of the Catholic Church to attend to those affected by tea coronavirus.

Islam:

The Kaaba in Mecca, usually crammed with pilgrims, is almost completely empty.

The Shiite regime in Tehran has declared that that medical work is jihad — struggle, typically “in the way of Allah. The Mullah Khamenei:

I have already sincerely thanked physicians, nurses and medical teams, but I deem it necessary to thank all those dear ones once more. Certain phenomena were witnessed these days which are really and truly instructive for all of us and which indicate the sense of responsibility of our medical staff and their human and religious commitment in the country.

India:

Put face-masks on the gods / “idols”. This one’s Shiva, from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi:

**

Sending my best wishes to all..

Two very different pieces of possible interest

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — one for those who follow apocalyptic strands in RL and media, one for those who follow Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and the Glass Bead Game — recommended ]
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Tim Furnish reviews the Netflix series, Messiah:

An Iraqi Refugee Trained in Illusion Who Works Miracles — Christ or Anti? Masih or Dajjal? That’s the situation posed by the Netflix series, Messiah, and it’s presented with sufficient subtlety that the answer’s not as obvious as it may seem from that quick condensation — and indeed, at the end of the series, there’s still sufficient ambiguity to keep you guessing, and the producers in line for a renewed contract and second series..

It’s not quite subtle enough to please our friend Tim Furnish, however, who gives a fine overview of the series, then takes the details of eschatological hadith and Biblical writings a step further into accuracy, and thus depth. His opening paragraphs:

“One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.” That’s the opening line of my first book on Islamic messianic figures. It’s also an apt summary of Netflix’s excellent new show Messiah. Its 10-episode first season was released on Jan. 1. Let’s hope it gets renewed. We need to know how this story of a charismatic Middle Eastern miracle worker, who not only attracts Christians, Muslims and Jews but sways the U.S. President, plays out. Here’s a brief (as possible) summary.

A Modern-Day Messiah?

A long-haired, thinly bearded man appears in Damascus and accurately predicts the destruction of besieging ISIS forces. Many Palestinians there follow him into the desert, believing him to be al-Masih, “The Messiah.” He leads them to the Israeli border. The movement gets on the CIA’s radar screen. The group reaches the Israeli border, and al-Masih crosses. He’s arrested and interrogated by a Shin Bet agent, about whom he knows personal details. He then disappears from prison (later we find out the prison guard let him go, believing him the Messiah) and reappears on the Temple Mount. In a confrontation near the Dome of the Rock, Israeli soldiers shoot a young boy — whom al-Masih heals. He then disappears again, showing up soon after in Dilley, Texas. He is caught on cell phone cameras stopping a tornado about to destroy the Baptist church. This goes viral and many flock to the town. The church pastor believes him to be Jesus returned and becomes his spokesman and handler.

Well there’s plenty more, obviously, and I highly recommend Tim’s commentary — they should have hired him as a consultant.

To read more, go to Netflix’s Messiah Reviewed: Who’s Your Messiah Now?

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Very different indeed is JustKnecht‘s exquisite weaving of ideas around Basho, Vimalakirti and a whiff of Chick Corea in his Notes on a winter journey to the interior, subtitled (and subtled) “on a treadmill facing north” — the reference is to Basho‘s Narrow Road to the Deep North which you really ought to know already.

And that’s a bit of a point. You really ought to know already: Basho and Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and Tamsin Lorraine, heaven and earth, and as it is in heaven, so it already and always is on earth, for as above, so below.

For myself, I know each of these with glancing blows, while JustKnecht knows each in depths I cannot match. Reading the whole is, for me, a sustained flight in the Absolute as viewed through thr world’s cultures, with butterflies a particular point of reference — and a long-tailed bired in seven syllables that’s almost an angel — or an apsara?. — ah, peacocks, too.

In any case, an education — and a delight.

Late afternoon, cooling down after a hard run in the condo gym, Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly breezes onto my playlist. We breathe together deeply, and I don’t know whether it is I dreaming that I am the bass clarinet, or the bass clarinet dreaming that it is I.

The music and the vision fades, and I’m sitting in my armchair doing mental exercise. From high school trombonists and collegiate level cello students to elite athletes and surgeons, cognitive rehearsal in the absence of physical movement has been shown to improve physical performance. In the same way, listening to one of my 5K run playlists gives me a perfectly good workout without the inconvenience of even moving a muscle.

Reade more: Notes on a winter journey to the interior — ah yes, the interior!

Thank you: I bow .

The martyr Soleimani embraced by Imam Hussein

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — as so often, religious analysis reveals a passionate motivational driver which can help us understand a national security threat — in this case not just from Iran ]
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Yes, that’s Soleiman embraced in death by Imam Husayn ibn Ali, the great martyr of Karbala

D’oh!

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As we process the death of Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force commander, Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani by today’s US drone strike, it’s worth taking a look at religious aspects of the response to the death of an iconic figure, who is viewed in Iran as a “glorious martyr“.

Narges Bajoghli is an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies {SAIS], and author of Iran Reframed” based on ten years of field research on the IRGC. She has a very pointed tweet which shows the illustration above, commenting:

More Art on Soleimani by Iran reg cultural ctrs. Imp to note dead Soleimani embraced by Imam Hussein. W/in Iran this circulating w text “Iran’s Rostam” (hero from Persian epic). Nat’lism + rel symbols to rally around flag internally, while image alone communicates to non-Iranian Shia.

Two points here — Martyrdom, and the tale of Sohrab and Rustum.

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Martyrdom:

Martyrdom is a central motif in Shi’ite thinking, which centers on the Battle of Karbala in which a small contingent led by the Prophet’s grandson, Ali’s son Husayn was defeated and martyred by the much greater forces of Yazid, second of the Sunni Umayyad caliphs — conceptually, the founding moment for Shia separation from Sunni Islam.

The death of Husayn is mourned yearly on Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram, with the slogan:

Every Day Is Ashura and Every Land Is Karbala

Imam Husayn embracing Soleimani thus pouts him at the very heart of Shia maythology. There could hardly be a more emphatic invocation oa a current of religious thought underlying not just Iranian but all Shi’ite thinking>

Thus Iraq’s usually quietist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, hugely admired outside Iran, may well feel called to request the departure of all US troops from Iraq as a result — should this happen, it would be a great victory, in death, for Gen Soleimani.

For a Christian equivalent, think of the devout Catholic observance of the Stations of the Cross.

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Rustum:

The tale of Sohrab and Rustum is an except from the Iranian national epic, the Shahnameh, “relating how the great warrior Rustum unknowingly slew his long-lost son Sohrab in single combat” —a tale which is even known to English readers in the version by poet Matthew Arnold:

But, with a grave mild voice, Sohrab replied:—
“Desire not that, my father! thou must live.
For some are born to do great deeds, and live,
As some are born to be obscured, and die.
Do thou the deeds I die too young to do,
And reap a second glory in thine age;
Thou art my father, and thy gain is mine.
But come! thou seest this great host of men
Which follow me; I pray thee, slay not these!
Let me entreat for them; what have they done?
They follow’d me, my hope, my fame, my star.
Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace.
But me thou must bear hence, not send with them,
But carry me with thee to Seistan,
And place me on a bed, and mourn for me,
Thou, and the snow-hair’d Zal, and all thy friends.
And thou must lay me in that lovely earth,
And heap a stately mound above my bones,
And plant a far-seen pillar over all.
That so the passing horseman on the waste
May see my tomb a great way off, and cry:
Sohrab, the mighty Rustum’s son, lies there,
Whom his great father did in ignorance kill!
And I be not forgotten in my grave.”

And, with a mournful voice, Rustum replied:—
“Fear not! as thou hast said, Sohrab, my son,
So shall it be; for I will burn my tents,
And quit the host, and bear thee hence with me,
And carry thee away to Seistan,
And place thee on a bed, and mourn for thee,
With the snow-headed Zal, and all my friends.
And I will lay thee in the lovely earth,
And heap a stately mound above thy bones,
And plant a far-seen pillar over all,
And men shall not forget thee in thy grave.

Soleimani, then, is drawn into an embrace by Huseyn, viewed as another Rustum, heroic Iranian icon — and on today’s Middle Eastern battlefields from Lebanon to Iraq a brilliant strategist and warrior..

**

Reflect, then, on this 2009 quote from Soleimani, to get a sense of the man as he regards his own role:

The war-front is mankind’s lost paradise. One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries. But there is another kind of paradise. … The war-front was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.

Isaac Chotiner describes him thus in the New Yorker:

If he had described himself, it would probably have been as the commander of Iran’s equivalent of CENTCOM, the regional commander of all of Iran’s operations — security, intelligence, military– outside of the Iranian border.

And to return to martyrdom:

The main [Iranian] news channels showed a live gathering at a mosque in Gilan Province, where the preacher reassured worshippers that “the best death is martyrdom for God” and that “great men prefer martyrdom to death by natural causes, cancer, accidents or old age”.

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Recommended tweeting:

  • Vali Nasr, until recently dean of SAIS
  • Narges Bajoghli, SAIS Assistant Professor
  • Mohammad Ali Shabani, PhD Researcher at SOAS
  • Mecca, the 1979 Grand Mosque Siege

    Sunday, December 29th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — watch out for movements — of any belief — that arm themselves in preparation for an end times battle ]
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    This is simply to alert you to a fine BBC recounting of the events at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on the first day of the current Islamic century — when two or three hundred heavily armed militants following a Mahdist claimant and his proclaimer —

    BBC pull quote

    really, think the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His John the Baptist, and you have some sense of the seriousness of the affair — took over the central mosque in all of Islam — think the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, or St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican perhaps — and held the place under siege, with considerable bloodshed, until finally four French commandos were allowed in to use gas and flush out the remaining followers of the Mahdi, himself now dead.

    **

    End times arousals of this sort are far from over: ISIS espoused an explicitly eschatological ideology, while AL Qaida used an end times hadith to rally to their black banners in Afghanistan, and a 2007 Shi’ite insurgency near Najaf around a Mahdist claim, Shi’i-style, was serious enough for the government of Iraq to call in American air strikes.

    Important stuff, therefore.

    **

    Recommended Readings:

  • BBC, Mecca 1979: The mosque siege that changed the course of Saudi history
  • Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited
  • Hegghammer & Lacrois:


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