On Paradise

3 12 2018

When in a vision I saw
A mullah ordered to paradise,
Unable to hold my tongue,
I said something in this wise:

‘Pardon me, O Lord,
For these bold words of mine,
But he will not be pleased
With the houris and the wine.

He loves to dispute and fight,
And furiously wrangle,
But paradise is no place
For this kind of jangle.

His task is to disunite
And leave people in the lurch,
But paradise has no temple,
No mosque and no church.’

-Muhammad Iqbal, translated by Naeem Siddiqui

The text as performance

16 09 2010

Jorge Luis Borges, in his short essay, Del culto de los libros , writes that a watershed moment in the history of human thought occured when St. Augustine found that St. Ambrose could read a text without moving his lips or reading aloud. Being a man of the world, one could only assume that St. Augustine found this to be an unusual skill. But to be mentioned in St. Augustine’s Confessions, it has to be more significant than just a cheap parlor trick. Borges explains:

Aquel hombre pasaba directamente del signo de escritura a la intuición, omitiendo el signo sonoro; el extraño arte que iniciaba, el arte de leer en voz baja, conduciría a consecuencias maravillosas. Conduciría, cumplidos muchos años, al concepto del libro como fin, no como instrumento de un fin.

(That man passed directly from the written sign to the intuition, omitting the audible sign; the strange art that it initiated, the art of reading to oneself, would lead to marvelous consequences. It would lead, after many years, to the concept of the book as an end, and not a means to an end.)
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More on modern fundamentalism

7 07 2010

National Geographic does it again

The wildest dancing I saw in Lahore was not in a theater but in a place of worship. Late on a Thursday night hundreds of mostly young men gathered at the tomb of a 17th-century Sufi spiritual leader, or saint, named Shah Jamal. They formed a tight circle around a trio of drummers and a pair of long-haired dervishes, who whirled at dizzying speeds on a tiled courtyard slick from rain showers and crushed rose petals. Hashish smoke drifted over the crowd, along with chants of “Allah! Allah-u!” and the names of various saints. The dervishes collided, and a shoving match erupted. “It’s our version of rave,” a Punjabi friend later explained.

Actually there’s a bit more to it than that. Sufism has flourished in the subcontinent since its arrival centuries ago in the wake of Turkish armies. It centers on the veneration of saints, often with help from qawwals—singers of devo­tional songs whose mesmeric rhythms are said to induce spiritual ecstasy. Famous saints such as the 18th-century poet Bulleh Shah were once persecuted for their liberal and iconoclastic views. Today their graves are pilgrimage sites for millions of steadfast followers…
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Fundamentalism and modernity

14 06 2010

Editorial note: I’m unavailable until Thursday. Posts will continue to appear, but this blog is on auto-pilot

I highly recommend the article, Rush Hour of the Gods by William Dalrymple (found via the Western Confucian blog). The article makes many counterintuitive points that I think any student of modern religion needs to take into consideration. While his analysis of Islam in south Asia was known to me, his analysis of modern Hinduism was particularly informative. Such an “ancient religion” is really not so ancient all things considered, and modernity has come to shape it just as much as it has contemporary Christianity.

My own exercise here is to compare and contrast what is going on with Hinduism and Islam in India with the long evolution of Catholicism in Latin America. In both cases, nationality, technology, scholarship, and the media are striving to define what Catholicism, Islam, and Hinduism are on a national and international scale, often in contrast with more local manifestations of these faiths.
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On the nature of the prophet

8 12 2009

The mirror the divine essence was placed face to face,
so that this form was duplicated,
the reflection of the divine essence appeared in the mirror,
the name of this reflection became Mustafa.
If such an image had not been born
the conclusion of beauty would come with him.
All flames come from this one flame
which illumines from earth to heaven.

The explanation of this is given thus by the masters of knowledge and the possessors of inner wisdom. The first emanation of God, may his state be exalted, is the light of Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him. That is, the absolute Creator brought the light of Muhammad into being 1,670,000 years before all other existent and created things. Hazrat ibn Jauzi wrote that God said to this light, “Become Muhammad,” so that it became a column of light and stood up and reached to the veil of divine greatness- then it prostrated and said, “Praise Be to God!” Then God said, “For this I have created you and I will make you the beginning of creation and the end of the Prophets”.

-Khwaja Muhammad Akbar Warithi, Milad-e-Akbar, found in the book, Religions of India in Practice

The story of the decline of many things

11 09 2009

Thus a Muslim holy man has said: “in the beginning Sufism was a reality without a name, today it is a name without reality.”

-Jean Borella, The Secret of the Christian Way

For questionable hagiographies

22 08 2009

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar once roamed the Indian province of Sindh (now a part of Pakistan) as a missionary of Islam. Most historical details about his life and his teachings have been lost and gave room to numerous legends but what seems to be certain is that Lal Shahbaz Qalandar preached that the very essence of Islam is love: love for God, love for God´s prophet and his family, love for the friends of God and love for each fellow human being.

He gained a reputation of offering heartfelt sympathy and practical help to the ostracized and downtrodden of society and his tomb became a special place of reverence for the poorest of the poor, for members of the lowest castes, for trannies, for prostitutes and for others with a “bad reputation” in mainstream society.

Leyla Jagiella, who posted this with the video above concerning the miracles wrought by this “Muslim saint”

I was telling a priest about my research one day, and, after recounting the story of St. Martin of Tours and the spurious martyr, I remarked that Mediterreanean Catholics seem to have been venerating social bandits for some sixteen hundred years. “Yes, and they’ll keep doing it as long as the Vatican only canonizes members of religious orders and goody-goodies!” was the unexpected response. The point is a good one, especially given Mexico’s strong class system, its traditional anticlericalism, and its deep suspicion of bureaucracy, be it secular or church related.

-James S. Griffith, Folk Saints of the Borderlands: Victims, Bandits, and Healers

I don’t necessarily agree with the priest. I don’t think that folk bandits need to be canonized to play a part in the lives of the people in the pews. There is a certain synergy between official and “folk” culture that best works when the realms are separated.

That being said, I have found that there is a tendency to reduce the cult of the saints in Catholicism to the “Catholic citizen of the month” club. I felt this especially in the policies of the last Pontiff to canonize as many people as he could from different “walks of life”. This wasn’t really a move of populist leanings, in my opinion. It was more a PR move to prove that anyone could be a clericalized, Catholic goody-goody. As I have written previously, Vatican II did not so much “empower the laity”, but rather clericalized them.

The Slave of the Koran

2 07 2009

I am the slave of the Koran
While I still have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad,
The Chosen One.
If anyone interprets my words
In any other way,
I deplore that person,
And I deplore his words.

-Jalalu’ddin Rumi

The above text came as a bit of a surprise to me when I found it. After all, this is Rumi we are talking about; well-loved by poetry fans, spiritual seekers, and agnostics everywhere. This is not some closed-minded mullah who demands obedience to religious precepts, but someone who talks about love, mysticisim, and the ultimate inability to know God through human knowledge.

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New World Jihad

28 04 2009

You learn somthing new everyday (and somewhat related to yesterday’s post)…

I stumbled across various references to the Revolta dos Malês, an 1835 slave rebellion in Bahia, Brazil, of Muslim slaves. Led by a Luisa Mahin, a snack vendor who could read and write Arabic, it sought to overthrow slavery in Brazil, enslave all non-Muslims, and create a kingdom governed by Islamic law. Mahin was also responsible for spreading the words of the Prophet Mohammed amongst the slaves. The revolt arose at the end of January and was suppressed within two days. The end of its leader Mahin is unknown to history, though she is known to be the mother of the Brazilian abolitionist, Luis Gama.

Related to this, it is said that santeros (priests of an Afro-Cuban religion) often greet each other with a phrase astoundingly close to the Arabic As-Salamu Alaykum, which has been passed on to them from their African rituals.

Popular Sufism in South Asia

19 04 2009


From the December 18th, 2008 issue of The Economist, on popular Islam in Pakistan and India:

Pakistan’s southernmost state of Sindh, a vast desert bisected by the Indus river, is perhaps best known for its shrines. A few miles outside the city of Hyderabad, in sight of the Indus, a middle-aged dwarf called Subhan manages one of them. She found the shrine deserted a few years ago, and moved into it. It is a small shack, with a low doorway hung with cowbells, in the tradition of a Hindu temple. A dusty green shroud covers the grave. Incense burns at its foot. Subhan says it holds the dust of a medieval saint called Haji Pir Marad. Sometimes, she says, he wrestles with the Indus to prevent it from changing course. In fits of terrible rage, he has caused pileups on the road. She advises passing motorists to propitiate the saint with a modest gift of rupees. On a good day, she collects around 50 rupees (60 cents) from the travellers who stop to pray.

All the traffic, on that recent sunny day, was bound for the nearby town of Sehwan Sharif, where Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, one of Pakistan’s most prominent Sufi saints, is entombed. It was the 734th anniversary of his death, an event marked by an annual festival attended by several hundred thousand devotees. This event is known as Qalandar’s urs, or wedding-night, to signify his union with God. A three-day orgy of music, dancing and intoxication, literally and spiritually, the urs at Sehwan is one of the best parties in Pakistan, or anywhere.

Outside Qalandar’s shrine, a white marble monument, decorated with flashing neon, pilgrims work themselves into an all-night ecstasy. Tossing their long black hair, a dozen prostitutes from Karachi or Lahore have a place reserved by the shrine’s golden doorway, to dance a furious jig. It is the dhammal, a rhythmic skipping from foot to foot, for which Qalandar’s followers are well-known. Thousands are moshing to a heavy drumbeat. The air is hot and wet with their sweat. A scent of rose petals and hashish sweetens it. In a flash of gold, out in the crush, a troupe of bandsmen in braided Sergeant Pepper uniforms are blowing inaudibly into brass instruments, then lifting trumpets and trombones into the air as they dance the dhammal.

Fighting through the crowd, a stream of peasant pilgrims flows into the shrine. Many carry glittering shrouds, lovingly embroidered by a wife or mother, as an offering for the tomb. They will be bestowed with a poor man’s prayer, for a good harvest, debt relief, or a son. “Last year I told my master [Qalandar] that I would bring him a goat if he gave me a son. I have come to honour that promise,” said Muhammad Riaz Rahman, a shopkeeper from Multan, tugging a calm-looking billy, daubed with pink dye, through the crowd.

Read all of it here. Special thanks to a reader of this blog who provided the link.