In a prior post on Kurds and Alevis, I quoted a paper which noted that perhaps 20 percent of the Kurds living in Turkey were Alevis. The paper went on to discuss "The Cult of Angels," and suggested that the Alevis were a sect of this religion. Razib of Gene Expression commented,
you sound like you're describe yezidis more than alevis. yezidism of course is strictly a kurdish religion and even more persecuted than the alevis.
I can't say for certain whether Alevis are a sect of the Cult of Angels or not -- I have at best a passing familiarity with these sects. I did come across an interesting article from the Sydney Morning Herald on the Yezedis via KurdishMedia.com, which tells us,
Scholars believe that the Yezidis' strange and ancient religion is one of the last surviving offshoots of a faith even older then Judaism or Zoroastrianism, which it heavily influenced.
Known as "the cult of the angels", this early Indo-European faith held that there was only one God but that he created seven angels to serve him. Chief among these, for Yezidis, is the angel who disobeyed his maker: the fallen angel.
By the way, I rather enjoyed the next paragraph, which tells us,
"They are devil worshippers," confides Yussuf Saleem, a Muslim restaurateur in Arbil in northern Iraq. "It's well known that they pray to Satan. Apart from that they seem to be nice people."
I rather liked that attitude. Let's hope that Mr. Saleem reciprocates.
Faith-based reasoning does not work on someone who does not share that belief. We need to analyze Luxenber’s claim not on the basis of our faith but by using textual analysis, history and rational thought.
I think this is exactly right, and Zack, who undoubtedly knows a lot more about this than I do, discusses some of the claims referenced in the Newsweek article.
Speaking of which, I remembered something I wanted to mention last night, but forgot. The end of the article claims,
I think this is demonstrably wrong. Rather, it was a recognition on the part of Enlightenment thinkers that perhaps how their citizens worshipped wasn't the business of states. It was not that they questioned the veracity of the Bible per se, but rather that they recognized that choosing among differing interpretations wasn't the job of government. In any case, it is suggestive of the Newsweek author's bias.
In the West, questioning the literal veracity of the Bible was a crucial step in breaking the church’s grip on power—and in developing a modern, secular society.
Update: Razib has an interesting post on a related topic--a sort of Protestentization (his word) of American Islam, which it's probably better to read for yourself than for me to attempt to summarize. An aside: I was raised more or less in a Calvinist Church, and to be honest, I'm not sure that the average person would get anything out of reading Calvin on predestination.
Last December, I wrote about Isaac Casaubon in a post on paleo Ideofact. The Columbia Encyclopedia entry I link to betrays no inkling of his fundamental importance to the development of Western culture. It was Casaubon who proved, through textual analysis, that the Corpus Hermeticum was not a work that predated the Pentateuch, but rather a third or fourth century A.D. work. This was a fairly fundamental blow to the philosophy that developed around Renaissance Mages; in the words of Frances Yates, "...with [the Corpus Hermeticum] there fell a major ally in the justification for magic..."
No one speaks of the "pre-Casaubon era" or of the "post-Casaubon era" and yet the dating by Isaac Casaubon in 1614 of the Hermetic writings as not the work of a very ancient Egyptian priest but written in post-Christian times, is a watershed separating the Renaissance world from the modern world. It shattered at once the build-up of Renaissance Neoplatonism with its basis in the prisci theologi of whom Hermes Trismegistus was the chief. It shattered the whole position of the Renaissance Magus and Renaissance magic with its Hermetic-Cabalist foundation, based on the ancient "Egyptian" philosophy and Cabalism. It shattered even the non-magical Hermetic movement of the sixteenth century. It shattered the position of an extremist Hermetist, such as Giordano Bruno had been, whose whole platform of a return to a better "Egyptian" pre-Judaic and pre-Christian philosophy and magical religion was exploded by the discovery that the writings of the holy ancient Egyptian must be dated, not only long after Moses but also long after Christ. It shattered, too, the basis of all attempts to build a natural theology on Hermetism, such as that to which Campanella had pinned his hopes.
(Quoted from Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.)
As I wrote in that old post, Casaubon attacked the Hermetica to undermine the work of a long-forgotten Counter-Reformation polemicist, who had included it in his defense of Catholic theology. For those who believed in the authenticity of the Hermetica (and I believe just about every learned man in Europe did at one point), it was not so much what it said that was most important, but rather its alleged antiquity. If the work predated Moses, then Hermes Trismegistus was a gentile prophet, since so much of the work seemed to prefigure both Old Testament and New Testament doctrine and revelation. (A stone in the Siena Cathedral depicts Hermes Trismegistus in just such a role.)
Via the always interesting Tacitus, comes this article from Newsweek, in which we learn of a scholar who has analyzed the Qur'an using the tools of textual analysis. He has offered what will no doubt become some hotly debated, and denounced, theories:
The forthcoming book contains plenty of other bombshells. It claims that the Qur’an’s commandment for women to cover themselves is based on a similar misreading; in Sura 24, the verse that calls for women to “snap their scarves over their bags” becomes in Aramaic “snap their belts around their waists.” Even more explosive are readings that strengthen scholars’ views that the Qur’an had Christian origins. Sura 33 calls Muhammad the “seal of the prophets,” taken to mean the final and ultimate prophet of God. But an Aramaic reading, says Luxenberg, turns Muhammad into a “witness of the prophets”—i.e., someone who bears witness to the established Judeo-Christian texts. The Qur’an, in Arabic, talks about the “revelation” of Allah, but in Aramaic that term turns into “teaching” of the ancient Scriptures. The original Qur’an, Luxenberg contends, was in fact a Christian liturgical document—before an expanding Arab empire turned Muhammad’s teachings into the basis for its new religion long after the Prophet’s death.
I wrote a post a while back in which I imagined the discovery of the human remains of Jesus Christ. This, of course, is highly unlikely -- regardless of whether one believes that Christ's physical form ascended into Heaven or not. But while Jesus is beyond the reach of forensic pathologists, the Qur'an can be studied using modern critical tools. This rather radical interpretation will no be challenged using the same methods, which will be a worthwhile endeavor for all concerned. I confess that I am not qualified to pass judgment on it; I suspect neither are Tacitus or the author of the Newsweek article. Regardless, polemicists on both sides of the question will unhesitatingly endorse or denounce it. I remain skeptical, but curious.
Over at Secular Islam, Fatima has a post on a 14th century book on Islamic law that's worth reading. She focuses on the treatment of infidels, the penalties for apostasy (that is, departing from the faith, which was roughly equivalent to charges of heresy in Christendom, although not nearly so prevalent), and adds,
It's true that in "real life" today, I would say that proabably most of the dictates of Shari'ah are not followed and in fact not even known about by the populace at large. Nevertheless they exist and provide backing to fundamentalists and Islamists who want to establish an Islamic state based firmly on these dictates, which are seen as coming straight from Allah Himself, not to be changed. In addition, the areas of Shari'ah that are most likely to be implemented in modern-day Muslim countries are those dealing with family law, women, and the like, which are typically horribly misogynistic (which I will deal with next time!). And of course, if the ulama scholars) are constantly dispensing fatwas and advice based on all aspects of Shari'ah, as seen on sites like Islam Q&A and Ask the Imam. It's also worth noting that this book and its laws was not originally written by a Wahhabi or a fundamentalist, but by a mainstream jurist of Islam in the 14th century, who was even a Sufi.
That seems about right to me, although it's regrettable to note that in some areas where Shari'ah is not followed, even harsher forms of tribal justice are observed. For the record, 14th century Western ideas on tolerance and religious freedom weren't exactly stellar; Norman Cohn argues that the second greatest Jewish holocaust was carried out around the time of the Black Death, particularly in (where else) the German kingdoms, but also elsewhere in Europe.
I don't raise such facts to denigrate the West; on the contrary, I find the modern West, and particularly the United States (I am partial), to be the last best hope of humanity. But Western notions of tolerance, pluralism and religious freedom evolved from a European milieu that spread the blood libel far and wide; that fairly regularly expelled Jews (Portugal, Spain, England); whose intellectuals engaged in witch hunts and burnt Giordano Bruno as a heretic and wanted to do the same to Galileo.
I suspect that Muslims are capable of the same transformation, although I agree there is a long way to go. For example, see this bit of Islamist horror, a sort of etiquette manual for Muslims living in the West who encounter Jews.
I came across this interesting paper while looking up information on the Kurds, who are, I believe, the largest ethnic group in the world without their own state.
Jason Smith, the paper's author, notes that many Kurds adhere to something called the "Cult of Angels," of which the Alevis are a sect. He also notes that perhaps 20 percent of the Kurds living in Turkey (perhaps at some point we will refer to this as occupied territory) are Alevis, although he does not say what percentage of Alevis are Kurdish. The erudite Smith tells us more about the Cult of Angels:
Izady describes the cults as "indigenous Kurdish faiths of great antiquity and originality, each of which is a variation on and permutation of an ancient religion that can loosely be labeled the 'Cult of Angels' (Izady 137)." He describes the doctrine of the Cult of Angels:
"All denominations of the cult, past and present, hold a fundamental belief in luminous, angelic being, of ether, numbering seven, that protects the universe from an equal number of balancing dark forces of matter. Another shared belief, and a cornerstone of the cult, is the belief in the transmigration of souls through numerous reincarnations (Izady 137)."
"The cult," Izady writes, "is a genuinely universal religion. It views all other religions as legitimate manifestations of the same original idea of human faith in the [Universal] Spirit...Thus, a believer in the Cult has little difficulty being associated with Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, or any other religion, as to him these are all just other versions of the old idea (Izady 138)." There seems to be a close relationship between Islam and the Cult, but it also seems evident that the Cult is neither a part of nor even an offshoot of Islam, as it predates Islam. Granted, the cult does contain some characteristics of Islam. However, the cult is very widespread, and absorbs aspects of the many religions that it comes in contact with and has come in contact with.
An old idea, indeed. Interestingly, Smith also tells us,
The Medes from which the Kurds originated were Zoroastrians. Since that time, the three great middle eastern religions have successively attempted to proselytize the Kurds. Mehrad Izady writes,
"Exiled Jews, according to the Talmud, were granted permission by the Jewish authorities to proselytize and succeeded spectacularly in converting nearly all of central Kurdistan to Judaism. Christianity was even more successful. Large numbers of Kurds in far Western and Central Kurdistan converted to Christianity. The introduction of Christianity was soon followed by Islam, which added further to the religious diversity of Kurdistan (Izady 131)."
Apparently, some of that diversity is preserved in the heterodox beliefs of the Alevi sect.
From KurdishMedia.com comes this man on the street report about the reaction in Sulemani to the death of Saddam's sons.
This is a milestone in the history of Kurdistan. On this sunny Wednesday morning, in the Sulemani City Market, one can see the joy and the Happiness on people’s faces. People were greeting each other, as if it was a nation day. The death of tyrant’s sons has made everyone joyful.
Here's one of the reactions:
Roopak Hama Saeed, a university lecturer:
"No one is as joyful as I am at the moment! That is because Saddam has lost his two sons. In early 1980s, he killed two of my nephews for no reason. I am just sorry that they [Uday and Qusai] died without much suffering. I wanted them to suffer for long time and I wanted them to be humiliated."
Another night in which actual work is preventing me from enjoying my new blog. I took a short break to look for information on the Alevi in Turkey, and wound up on a site called What you need to know about Agnosticism/Atheism". I don't think I could be an atheist -- I lack the necessary piety, devoutness and rigor to ascribe to this peculiarly ascetic faith.
In any case, the site has a page on the Alevi, on which we are informed,
Even though scholars of the contemporary Middle East tend to associate Alevi with Syria, where they have played an influential political role since the 1960s, a majority of all Alevi actually live in Turkey. Alevi include almost all of Turkey's Arab minority, from 10 to 30 percent of the country's Kurds, and many ethnic Turks. In fact, a majority of Alevi may be Turks. Historically, Alevi resided predominantly in southeastern Turkey, but the mass rural-to-urban migration that has been relatively continuous since 1960 has resulted in thousands of Alevi moving to cities in central and western Anatolia. Consequently, Alevi communities of varying size were located in most of the country's major cities by the mid-1990s.
Because of centuries of persecution by Sunni Muslims, Alevi became highly secretive about the tenets of their faith and their religious practices. Consequently, almost no reliable information about Alevi Islam is available. Unsympathetic published sources reported that Alevi worshiped Ali ibn Abu Talib, observed various Christian rituals, and venerated both Christian and Muslim saints. Prior to the twentieth century, information on the sect was so sparse and distorted that even Twelve Imam Shia regarded Alevi as heretics. However, the tendency among most contemporary Twelve Imam clergy is to recognize the Alevi as a distinct legal school within the Twelve Imam tradition. In addition, major Twelve Imam Shia theological colleges in Iran and Iraq have accepted Alevi students since the 1940s.
They list a source, incidentally, the Library of Congress, particularly its country studies.
Among the requirements of the faith of atheism, it seems to me, is an unhealthy obsession with religion.
Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk, who's been a very kind and gracious supporter of Ideofact for some time (and, believe it or not Judith, I am thinking about another post dealing with Mongols), has a post on a book that I think I might have to get hold of for my summer vacation, The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Re-Discovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India. I found this, from a review Judith quotes, particularly thought intriguing:
Nearly every major religion has developed a tension between its exoteric forms -- accessible to all practitioners -- and its esoteric secrets, which are restricted to a small band of initiates, if only to prevent the misuse of that esoterica. In a series of remarkable discussions, the Dalai Lama and these two learned, ebullient cabalists, Rabbis Schachter and Omer-Man, compare notes on the character of meditation, its structures, rhythms and traditions. To read these chapters is something like walking through a mythic garden . . . .
It appears that the book on the 72 Satans of Ismaili heresiography is beyond my reach (at least for now), so this might provide a good alternative...
you should write about the alawites, they're pretty weird too.... (or perhaps the alevi minority of turkey which seems to be off everyone's radar)
I don't know too much about the Alawites, who mostly live in Syria (I think they make up 12 percent of the population; Bashar Assad is an Alawite, and during the French colonial period, the Alawites along with the Marionite Christians were treated far better than the Sunni Muslims); I believe there are some Aliwites in Lebanon as well. I think they're a tenth century C.E. spinoff from the Ismaili Shi'ites. The name Aliwite derives from Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, whom the Alawites believe was an incarnation of the divine. Like the Druze, their holy books are only for the initiated; they read the Qur'an and follow Muslim rites, but some celebrate Christian holidays as well (Easter in particular). In the ceremonies of their elect, they use bread and wine. They have some sort of astrological component to their belief system, and also believe in metempsychoses, or reincarnation.
That's about all I know about them, but if I have some time later in the week I'll see what else I can find. As for the Alevi, I've heard the name but that's about it.
I've been quite busy of late, so reading for pleasure is something I haven't had much time for. On the train to work, I've been distracting myself with the collection of Borges essays Selected Non-Fictions, edited by Eliot Weinberger and translated by Esther Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine and Mr. Weinberger.
Late in the book, there's a short piece of Thorstein Veblen, author of The Theory of the Leisure Class, about which Borges writes
When, many years ago, I happened to read this book, I thought it was a satire. I later learned that it was the first work of an illustrious sociologist. In any event, one need only look closely at a society to realize that it it is not a utopia, and that its description runs the risk of bordering on satire. In this book from 1899, Veblen discovers and defines the leisure class, whose strange obligation is the ostentatious spending of money. Thus they live in a certain neighborhood because that neighborhood is famous for being the most expensive. ... According to Veblen, the success of golf is due to the circumstance that it requires a great deal of land. He mistakenly claims that the study of Latin and Greek has its origin in the fact that both languages are useless. ...
I thought the first line was perfect.
That Saddam Hussein likened himself to Saladin, the Muslim military leader who united the fractured Arab polities long enough to expel the Crusaders from the Holy Land, is surely one of the specimens of totalitarian propaganda worth remembering. That Saladin was a Kurd seemed not to bother the dictator at all.
From time to time, I check in on Kurdish Media, an English and Kurdish language Website. I found this commentary, entitled Who Won't Be Making Jokes About WMD, particularly interesting. Obviously, those who won't be making jokes are the Kurds themselves -- those killed, and those who survived both WMD and Saddam's reign of terror:
"The Kurds have no friend but the Mountain" is a piece of aging Kurdish wisdom. And while the mass gassings and other slaughter of this people is treated as "yesterday’s news" by too much of the rest of the world, all the current hype about whether or not Adolph--er Saddam--Hussein had/has weapons of mass destruction brings their tragic story back onto center stage...or at least should.
I recommend reading the whole piece.
Tony Blair's address to the joint session of Congress reminded me of something Jorge Luis Borges wrote at the end of the Second World War:
Of England, of the complex and almost infinite England, of that torn and lateral island that rules continents and the seas, I will not risk a definition; it is enough to recall that it is perhaps the only country that is not fascinated with itself, that does not believe itself to be Paradise or Utopia. I think of England as one thinks of a loved one, as something unique and irreplaceable. It is capable of reproachable indecision, of terrible slowness (it tolerats Franco, it tolerates the subsidiaries of Franco), but it is also capable of rectification and contrition, of returning to wage once more, when the shadow of a sword falls across the world, the cyclical battle of Waterloo.
The other day I came across this site, which informs us that the Druze sect
are perhaps one of the most misunderstood and understudied religious sects in the world.
I think I've come across references to them here and there, without knowing much about them. The site explains their origin, which dates back to the eleventh century:
Historians trace Druze origins to 11th century Fatimid Cairo where they began as an Islamic reform movement. The establishment of this reform movement and doctrine revolves primarily around several individuals, two of whom are Hakim and Hamza. A third individual, named Darazi, is thought to be responsible for undermining the doctrine and ironically lending his name to the sect itself. Hakim was the 6th Fatimid Caliph who became the head of the Islamic Fatimid state in 996 at the age of eleven. Although Hakim’s attitude towards the emerging reform movement that later became known as ‘Druze’ is not fully discernible from available sources, he is regarded within the Druze manuscripts as the founding father of Druzism and the source of its strict unitarianism. Among the reforms he introduced were resolutions to (1) abolish slavery, (2) prohibit polygamy, and (3) implement a form of separation of church and state. While these reforms did not become part of orthodox Islam, the Druzes, as well as other Islamic sectarian movements, adopted them.
The connection between Hakim and the Druzes is best substantiated through the religious writings of Hamza, the second person associated with the Druze faith, who was appointed as a religious leader by Hakim. He is considered the main author behind most of the original Druze manuscripts. After a period of teaching philosophy and religion, Hamza began to organize followers, train missionaries, and write a religious doctrine. Prospective adherents were requested to pledge their loyalty to a form of strict unitarianism (Tawhid), a reform doctrine with a new interpretation of some aspects of Islam and monotheism in general.
The resistance of the medieval populace to such interpretation, however, posed a grave danger for Hamza and his associates. One of Hamza’s subordinates, Darazi, seized the opportunity to take political control of the movement and proclaimed himself “Guide of guides” which was meant to elevate him over Hamza.
More importantly, Darazi began to falsify the doctrine of Tawhid by altering a number of Hamza’s writings. Darazi was ultimately executed by Hakim in 1019. Nonetheless, some of Darazi’s teachings were attributed to the Druzes by his followers, referred to as “Darazis.” Ironically, a few medieval chroniclers of the time not only failed to make the distinction between Druzes and Darazis but attributed Darazi’s doctrine to the followers of Hamza and argued that Hakim supported Darazi’s ideas. Other historians have reported that it was Hamza who was subordinate to Darazi, and still others have referred to Hamza and Darazi as the same person: Hamza al-Darazi. As a consequence, the name “Druze” became synonymous with the reform movement. Despite the ironic and misleading origins of the sect’s name, the title “Druze” never occurs in the Druze manuscripts of the 11th century. After the execution of Darazi and his collaborators, Hamza continued his preaching activities for two more years. Among Druzes today, Darazi is known as a heretic and the uttering of his name constitutes the use of profanity.
The conflation of Hamza and Darazi sounds almost Borgesian, as does the sect being called by the name of its heresiarch. I also recall reading somewhere that al-Hakim disappeared in mysterious circumstances; the Druze (if one may call them that) believed that he had become occultated -- had been hidden, but was still the spiritual leader, and would return.
The quoted text goes on to describe the Druze's social structure, which sounds more like a Gnostic order than an Islamic one:
Although the structure of the Druze society helps unite them into a socially cohesive community, it also divides them into two main classes: “the initiated” known in Arabic as ‘uqqal, literally “wise,” who are familiar with the religious teachings; and “the uninitiated” known as juhhal, or literally “ignorant” who are not initiated in the Druze doctrine. Only those members of the community who demonstrate piety and devotion and who have withstood a lengthy process of candidacy are initiated into the teachings of the Druze faith. Women may also be initiated in the Druze doctrine. The Druze tradition considers women to be more spiritually prepared than men to enter such circles because they are considered less likely to be exposed to deviant or immoral practices such as murder and adultery.
Most monotheists believe in exoteric or literal meanings of their scriptures while some speak of esoteric or inner meanings. The mystical tradition in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity also attempts esoteric reading or interpretation of the scriptures. Druzes believe that both the Bible and the Qur’an have esoteric meanings in addition to the exoteric or literal ones. Moreover, Druzes also believe that above these two levels of meaning there is “the esoteric of the esoteric.” In Druze faith, there are prophets, helpers, and luminaries. Each fulfills a different function in achieving complete spirituality.
For example, Druzes venerate the messages of prophets in the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, who preached the word of God in their respective lifetimes. Each prophet, according to Druzes, preached only a partial truth since humanity was not yet ready to receive the entire truth. However, underneath the exoteric truth lay the esoteric message. For each of these prophets, God provided a helper or assistant to propagate the doctrine of strict unitarianism and to interpret the esoteric nature of the message. For each period, Druzes argue there were also luminaries who taught these three levels of interpretations.
This short paper (actually more of a cheat sheet) on the Druze adds this information:
The Druze faith is one of the best-kept secrets in the Middle East, hence non-Druze have a very limited knowledge of the theology behind Druzism. Only a Druze is permitted to read the sacred texts. The Druze deviated from the Shiites after following al-Hakim bi-amr Allah, who they believe to be divine. Al-Hakim lived in the 11th century and is considered a heretic by orthodox Islam. He outright denied many of the basic tenets of Islam. He discontinued public prayer, did not observe the fast of Ramadan, and prohibited the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca (Nisan 81).
Al-Hakim disappeared in Cairo in 1022 (Nisan 81). Since al-Hakim did not die, this phenomenon is similar to that of the Ismaili’s, who believe that Ismail, the seventh imam, was occulted. Hamza, who promoted al-Hakim’s divinity, instituted a moral code, which strayed from orthodox Islam. He also called for a jihad or holy war. Rather than waging a holy war against non-Muslims, this jihad was a “striving to know God” (Nisan 81).
Another belief of the Druzes is transmigration of the soul. In his book, Minorities of the Middle East, Mordechai Nisan gives a brief explanation of this supernatural movement. He writes, “Druze solidarity grew from the idea of metempsychosis, which posited that when a Druze died, his soul reappeared in a new body elsewhere. Thus a universal far-flung Druze community existed, but its exact location and numbers were concealed” (Nisan 81).
An article in the May-June 1994 edition of the Tibetan Bulletin notes similarities between Tibetan Buddhism and the Druze.
Interdependence and harmony between positive and negative aspects are other cornerstones of Druze belief. The significance of harmony is all comprehensive - individual, collective and cosmic levels. These thoughts facilitate in creating balance in times of conflict between the two aspects. In this, five factors play crucial role: the brain, the soul, the speech, the pre and the post of everything. One obtains superior brain, the state of enlightenment, according to Druze, through harmonious blend of the above
factors. This state is sought primarily to help others, a tradition almost similar to the concept of Boddhicitta in Mahayana Buddhism.
The Druze also give a lot of importance to behavior: modesty, hospitality and non attachment. The devout shave off their hair to signify non-attachment. Death to them is merely a change of cloth, termed Takmis in Arabic, which literally means change of shirts. Just as you cast away the old shirt and put
on the new one, you die and leave your previous body and enter into a new form.
Generally the Druze philosophy has received influence, as Mr Araidi says,"...from my Arab culture and by virtue of my mystical religion, the secrets and symbols of the Islamic suffi, which knew the way to inject into sinews of the Near East the liquid essence of the Greek philosophy, transformed by the Confucius ideas carrying in its veins the lifeblood of the soul of Indo-China."
I wish I had an intelligent observation with which to conclude, but I suspect the best I can do is to echo the claim that the Druze are an understudied sect.
It's a beautiful night, warm with a gentle breeze, perfect for sitting outside with the telescope to look at the stars. Unfortunately, I've got a mammoth amount of actual work to do, so this will be a short post.
I came across this book the other day, prompted by comments on a post below by Aziz, Zack and Razib, on Amazon.com: An Ismaili Heresiography: The "Bab Al-Shaytan" from Abu Tammam's Kitab Al-Shajara (Islamic History and Civilization. Studies and Texts, V. 23). The title was intriguing, but Amazon didn't provide a description, although I found one here:
Presents the "Chapter on Satan"(Bab al-shaytan) from a long unrecognized Ismaili work called the Kitab al-shajara by the 4th/10th century Khurasani da‘i, Abu Tammam. The satans of Abu Tammam's "Chapter" are the founders and instigators of the seventy-two heretical sects of Islam. Each sect has been accorded a relatively lengthy description as perceived from a generally Shi'a and Mu‘tazili point of view. Most entries offer new information about these sects and, in several cases, the account given is for a sect almost completely unknown in the existing Islamic heresiographical literature.
Sounds like perfect summer beach reading, but regrettably, the price is rather steep. I'll have to sleep on this one.
You'll often see Muslims or non-Muslims defending Islam by saying that, although the recent past has been bad for women, or non-Muslims, or for Muslims themselves, that's because Islam has been corrupted and hijacked from its "pure" form in the 7th or 10th centuries (any time is OK, as long as it is in the distant past), which somehow provides for all the things that citizens from the 21st century think desirable, such as:
voting rights for women
complete equality for women
a fair and equitable distribution of wealth and power
tolerance and peaceful co-existence for non-Muslims
banning of slavery
banning of racism
Obviously, there are some absurd claims here (equality for women being one; I seem to recall that Sayyid Qutb argued that as opposed to the West, women enjoyed absolute equality under Islamic law, which of course made some allowances for their natural inferiority). That the tendency Fatima describes exists is undoubted.
I generally ascribe to Bernard Lewis' argument that, compared to their Christian contemporaries, Muslims were for the most part far more tolerant than their European contemporaries prior to the Enlightenment. Thereafter, the West led the way.
I also found this part of her post of interest:
You'll also see writings proclaiming Islam Is The Solution, in which somehow the application of Islam to all aspects of life and society will solve all problems, and which will turn into a paradise on earth. But then why are actually existing "Islamic states" so miserable and poor? Shouldn't people be flocking to them if they worked? If Islam has all the solutions, shoudn't even the partial application of it result in a noticeable improvement? I'm reminded of the claim that the USSR and China should not be seen as "failures" of communism, because they weren't "really" communist!
I've read a few polemics along these lines: that Marxism (and even Leninism) are still viable theories because those left to implementing the dream fell far short of the ideals. It's also interesting to note that during the heyday of the Cold War, the Soviets and their puppets argued that they, and not the West, offered true freedom. I recall attending a meeting of Marxists (Trotskyites, to be exact) in Boston in 1981; the subject of the night was "What we like about the Soviet Union." Even then, the line of Trotsky's few adherents was that the Soviet leadership had betrayed the ideals of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. I was treated to an evening of hearing that at least in the Soviet Union, there was freedom of conscience, religion and the press, that the material well being of the proletariat was far greater than in the United States, that women were granted full political rights and participation in society, that the Soviet Union was the liberator of nations whereas the United States enslaved them, and on and on.
When I read and blogged Sayyid Qutb (the whole series is on paleo ideofact), I occasionally thought of that event. There was a certain resemblance: just as the Trotskyites argued that freedom of religion meant the state's active attempt to free the proletariat from the opiate of the masses, so did Qutb argue that it meant the state's endorsement of the one true faith, removing the impediments that the governments of the infidels put between man and Islam.
In any case, I've added Fatima's interesting blog to the Favorites list.
I found this post by Zack Ajmal of Procrastination of interest. Zack quotes a Lebanon Daily Star article on efforts to research the early history of the Qur'an, and produce a critical edition on the basis of what appears to be an early, alternative manuscript.
Brian Ulrich (who found the link) wrote that the effort is
...influenced by manuscripts found in Sana'a which differ from the standard text. Muslims, of course, consider the Qur'an the divinely revealed word of God, and hence do not subject it to the same styles of exegesis you find among many Christians with the Bible, though the interpretation of the Qur'an by Muslim scholars is more complicated than generally believed by the average non-Muslim. However, the standard edition of the Qur'an was actually compiled during the reign of the caliph Uthman, and hence there is a certain room for uncertainty as to what other versions of the text might have existed.
This is a subject I am very much interested in but as I have mentioned before, most of the work in this area has been by extremists, who either want to refute Islam or Muslims who want to defend orthodoxy against orientalists. I would really like to see Muslims take on these projects with scholarship and impartiality. That is why I am excited to hear about the Tunisian scholars work.
I am too, although I suspect that, should the Tunisian scholars produce a work at variance with the accepted text of the Qur'an, they will become fodder for both types of extremists.
Quite a few Christian denominations might disagree, but one can simultaneously be a believing Christian while doubting that, say, some of the Pauline epistles were written by Paul, or that Revelation was not divinely inspired.
I've read now and again arguments that the Islamic world must go through the same process of questioning the Qur'an to which Western scholars -- believers, doubters, atheists, and what not -- subjected the Bible. I think this misses the mark somewhat. A fairer comparison might run as follows:
A sealed tomb is discovered in Jerusalem bearing the inscription, in Aramaic of course, "Here lies Jesus of Nazareth." Archaeologists reliably date the sealed tomb to the first century A.D.; let us say that it is discovered thanks to a newly uncovered ancient text -- perhaps a denunciation of a heresiarch who claimed that Christ was not divine, that he died like other men. The heresiarch claims he witnessed the sealing of the tomb with Christ's remains, a point with which the orthodox commentator takes particular issue, since all know the tomb wasn't sealed, that Christ rose bodily from the dead, that he was seen by his disciples, that Paul encountered him on the road to Damascus...
If our archaeologists discovered a skeleten within the tomb, perhaps more evidence consistent with a crucifixion...what would be the effect? It is not hard to imagine that some would take the tomb as conclusive proof that Christianity was a fraud, while believers would attack the scholarship involved in the discovery of the "false" tomb of the Messiah.
My analogy is not entirely apt, but the Qur'an, to the believer, is the revealed word of God, his last message to humanity conveyed through the last Prophet. That there might be two versions of the message, meaning one or the other, or, worse, both versions, was corrupted is an intolerable idea.
Like his contemporaries, a considerable portion of the life of Hudson Lowe (1763-1844) was captive to the French Revolution and its aftermath. A military man (Lowe's father was an army surgeon; Lowe himself began his service as an ensign at the age of 12), Lowe saw some 22 years of uninterrupted service beginning in 1793.
When Napoleon -- then merely General Bonaparte -- invaded Egypt, Lowe followed with a band of Corsican raiders which he led with distinction against Bonaparte's troops. Lowe fought in Italy, Germany, Greece, Spain (where Wellington first distinguished himself) and France, where he maintained order in Marseilles after the city was taken by Coalition troops and was awarded the thanks of the city fathers for preventing looting and other depradations. In all, Lowe fought in 31 battles, and was commended for never missing a day of service, a trait he did not share with the man who gives us reason to remember Lowe's name, and to be grateful to him. As general, Napoleon Bonaparte deserted his Egyptian army; as Emporer, he fled pell mell from Russia and from Waterloo, thrice deserting his post.
Napoleon Bonaparte did more to determine the fate of Europe and, more humbly, of Lowe, than any other European. His campaigns, in Egypt, Switzerland, Italy, the various petty German states, Austria, Spain and Russia were in some ways a fitting end to the Revolutionary excess of the Terror. A pathetic example: Hegel, the philosopher, waved his hat at the emporer's troops in Berlin even as they looted his apartment. Napoleon was the man of today, and Europe was spellbound. There is little doubt that he drove history; there is little doubt he did so out of the basest of motives. After the Russian debacle, he stormed to Metternich, the Austrian statesman, that he would rather sacrifice a million men rather than accept terms far more generous than he deserved.
In 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba, raised an army of hundreds of thousands, and went down to defeat at Waterloo, that close-run thing in Wellington's words. Something like 100,000 men died to satisfy Napoleon's vanity, on top of the five or six million who had died in his previous wars. The Congress of Vienna branded Bonaparte "an enemy and disturber of the tranquility of the world" who had "rendered himself liable to public vengeance." Public vengeance proved to be exile to St. Helena, an island enjoying a temperate climate in a tropical zone that was a way station for ships engaged in the lucrative trade with the East Indies. Hudson Lowe sought the job as governor of the island, and as Napoleon's jailer. Whereas Napoleon's whims had once determined the fate of millions, including Lowe, now the humble soldier would rule the tyrant.
On the island, Napoleon began what has been described as his final campaign -- the great act of revisionist history to justify himself, to cast himself, as Emerson would later write, as the "self-made man," the man who smashed Europe's feudal system, and liberated mankind from the chains of tradition. On St. Helena, Napoleon waged another war, against the scrupulous official who enforced the terms of Bonaparte's imprisonment, decreed by an act of a legally elected Parliament, to prevent him from ever again becoming an "enemy and disturber of the tranquility of the world."
The battle of St. Helena was an uneven affair. On the one hand, there was Lowe -- a man who knew several languages, who had commanded Corsicans, Spaniards, Russians and Germans, who had been soldier and diplomat, who rose from a lowly station in life to earn a title, and on the other side was Napoleon and his entourage of sycophants. In 1817, Lowe, acting according to the dictates of his conscience, freed the slaves of St. Helena (a full 16 years before the British Empire did the same). Bonaparte amused himself by shooting farm animals. Napoleon made a great show of putting some of his silverware on sale, the better to advertise Lowe's supposed inhumane treatment of him (in fact, Napoleon lacked nothing, but nevertheless Lowe had lobbied the British government to make the deposed tyrant's annual stipend the equal of his own). Lowe was forced to arrest and expel some members of his charge's court who broke the rules; invariably the returned to Europe telling tales of the cruelty of Napoleon's gaoler. After Napoleon's death, a member of his St. Helena court explained the slandering of Lowe: "It was our policy--but what did you expect?"
Indeed, what would one expect? The emporer and his jailer met six times; during the last two, the former hurled abuse at the latter, who, for the most part, maintained a dignified silence. In the final meeting, Napoleon thundered, "You are a Lieutenant-General, and should not perform your duty like a sentinel!" By this, Napoleon meant that Lowe should grant Napoleon and his entourage permission to write private letters, letters that may well have had the purpose of arranging a rescue for Napoleon, a return to France, and perhaps another 100,000 dead to satisfy the ego of a tyrant. Lowe replied that the was merely doing his duty, "which I esteem above glory."
In the person of Hudson Lowe, glory and duty are synonymous.
When I studied archaeology as an undergraduate, I came across the terms sociofact, technofact and ideofact. I think I can explain them better with an example, but the distinctions run something like this: a sociofact is something that helps establish social order; a technofact is a tool that provides for basic needs (food, shelter, and so on); and an ideofact is something that speaks to the unknown -- an artefact with religious implications. I remember a tale of anthropologists who studied a Pacific Islander culture; the well-meaning Westerners noted that the natives used stone axes, which were very rare on the island -- apparently, there was a shortage of stone suitable for knapping into an axe-head. The anthropologists left them as a gift some mass produced, metal-headed hatchets, and chaos ensued.
As technofacts -- as tools -- the new hatchets certainly did the job better than the old stone axes. But the number of stone axes was limited, and possessing one implied a certain amount of social stature. The elders of the tribe had the limited pool of stone axes, and in order for an axeless man to borrow one, he had to pay a certain amount of respect to the elder. The possiblility that one would not have access to a stone axe acted as a break on one's behavior. The introduction of the metal-bladed hatchets destroyed this social structure, displacing a sociofact.
The islanders also believed that the stones used in the axe heads were one of the gifts with which their gods had blessed them. In their eyes, the gods had provided them with a sizeable bounty of axes; the introduction of the hatchets suggested that the gods were not all powerful, or had deprived the islanders of a bounty. The stone axes had been a comforting symbol of the gods' favor; the hatchets, which displaced the ideofact, made them doubt their idols.
For the most part, I concentrated on archaeology. With an ancient, isolated, extinct, preliterate culture, there is no way to determine what among the flotsam and jetsam they left behind -- stone or metal implements, clay pots, the occasional luxury item like a gold pin -- were sociofacts or ideofacts. Archaeologists used the term "epiphenomenal" to refer to ideologies and belief systems -- they were flabby adjuncts to culture, and in and of themselves could not explain cultural change. I never quite bought into this notion, but as a student I played the game by the rules. Ideofacts were, for me, the bits that didn't quite fit.
And so, this site is devoted to my not altogether consistent or intelligent ramblings on those bits that don't fit. I make no pretense of having any insight to them.
For simplicity's sake, I have made three categories of posts: Essays, which should be self-explanatory, Apocryphas, which are writings of dubious authenticity on religious themes, and Ephemera, which is just about everything else.
Welcome to the new Ideofact.