THE INFIDEL KNIGHT DISMISSES PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD
FROM THE DOOMAH DISCOURSE BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Your claim that sovereign nation-states are a relatively modern invention occurring with the fall of the Roman Empire and then the Roman Church, and that Islam constitutes a return to the natural tendency to universal theocratic community under world empire pursuant to Muhammad’s 632 farewell address wherein he said, “I was ordered to fight all men until they say there is no god but Allah,’ is false propaganda designed to deceive your students.
First of all, the establishment of new nations or new countries with newly organized peoples by the time-honored tradition of warfare goes far back in history. For example, the nation of Israel, historically a sovereign nation firmly established by war and recognized by other sovereign nations thousands of years ago was deliberately put out of existence by the Romans because the Jews refused to submit to the sovereignty of the empire. No other nation had so continuously and persistently resisted Rome’s take-over as Israel. So, Rome decided if they couldn’t subdue the Jews, they would just make their nation disappear and scatter the people far away.
There was never any sovereign nation of Palestine. The Roman territory called Palestine was actually the land of the sovereign nation of Israel. Semitic peoples calling themselves Muslims wandered their way back onto the land, swearing to the Romans: “We’re not Jews… we’re Muslims… we hate Jews as much as you do, and we won’t cause any problems.”
That was plain old common-sense survival strategy; who could blame them? And so, they continued to live on, and multiply, through the death of the Roman Empire, through the Crusades and world wars, until this very day.
The killing of six-million Jews during the Holocaust was a horror which had not been seen in the modern world. The Holocaust, however, was not the start of the Zionist national movement, which simply the return of Jews to their historic homeland. It was ongoing for many years prior to the historic Balfour Declaration of November, 1917. The Declaration was not merely a personal letter, but was penned after Lord Balfour had talked seriously with many heads of state as to whether or not historical justice would be served by re-installing the Jews onto their historic homeland as the renewed nation of Israel.
It was only after the Holocaust was revealed to the world that the British openly declared that the historical nation of Israel must be re-established in their historic homeland, yet advised Israel that it must be mindful and tolerant of all the new history which had taken place there since their dispersal. Therefore the Jews did not demand the Dome of the Rock, which, although built on the site of the Jewish Temple, was of major religious significance to Islam. They also did not do anything to jeopardize any historic Christian holy sites.
The first reaction toward a peaceful establishment of a Jewish village was the slaughtering of every man, woman, and child in that village by knife-wielding Palestinians. The Israelis persevered, have made their land fertile and their industries productive, and have produced amazing new technological achievements for the world, such as the new nuclear and chemical warfare protective tents I happen to be selling in America. They have re-invested money in their agriculture and business and technological advancement.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, were co-opted by an Egyptian, who couldn’t get a dozen Egyptians on a street corner to listen to him, and by the skilled use of terror and murder against Palestinians, and his proclamation of hatred for Jews, made himself the “king” of the Palestinians. He spent years, raking in hundreds-of-millions, possibly billions of dollars for his own benefit, leaving the Palestinians to wallow in squalor, all the time blaming it on the Jews. Those dollars could have been spent in exactly the same way the Jews spent theirs in making their land fruitful, but that was not to be. Yet there was always plenty of money for weapons and for any and all Muslims who would use those weapons to kill Jews.
So, we continue to see Muslims murdering each other at an alarming rate and continuing to blame their own social and economic problems on the Jews. Palestinians, to boot, are now largely outcasts from all other Arab nations. They are publicly unwanted by other Muslims, yet are allowed to work, own businesses, attend schools and receive medical care in Israel.
I hope I have been of some help in your search for information. I have tried to present as much historical fact as I am able, but have limited time to do research for teachers such as you, so I must bid you farewell. I wish the best to you and yours, a thousand blessings on your family, and all the best to your students. And remember, I am not an infidel knight, but am,
The Doomah Discourse is taken from dialogue on the Roundtable of Authorsden.com that took place circa 2003. David Arthur Walters took on the role of Dajen Doomah, Devil’s Advocate, an Iranian English teacher. ‘Roundtable Rascal’ is the late Hanley Harding of South Florida, an heroic American patriot, Navy SEAL, and the best friend one could ever have in terrifying times.
First of all, I pray that neither you nor your brothers and sisters were unduly offended when I referred to you as a “knight,” a term that I associated with the honorable King Arthur and his noble knights although you appear to be an Anglo-Saxon and not a Celtic warrior. I know why the table was round, but they were still noble knights.
Many of the knights who joined the pre-emptive Crusade against Allah’s people, however, were much less noble than the Arabs. As a careful student of history, you must know that “arab” means “noble.” Although we Persians have our differences with our Arab brothers, we certainly intend no insult when we call them Arabs; that is, “nobles.” Although we ourselves are a humble people, we are proud of our heritage. Our heritage is the foundation of our personalities, which are all not merely biased but faithfully prejudiced in favor of All-Merciful-Allah.
Unlike infidels (may Allah have mercy on their souls) who believe they can take off their personalities like hats under the pretence of searching for the truth, we find our truth within the personal commune. The infidels would too, if only they took to heart the truth revealed by foremost modern Christian philosopher and pope, Karol Wojtyla, in THE ACTING PERSON, a work that I have lately been interpreting for my students.
Indeed, every Christian who sincerely believes that the Prophet Jesus was the son of god – we respectfully do not share that belief – and was and is the same as god but in the form of the Supreme Personality, would esteem the person even higher than we do, and would not pretend to set aside the very personal feelings and prejudices that make him a human being made in the image of his personal god.
Even in the common parlance of your English language, the term ‘person’ is synonymous with an acting human being. Sometimes it is difficult for a people to know themselves through their own eyes, therefore it is useful for other people’s to come to their assistance; in this case, to point out that, no matter how impersonal or objective or detached or scientific a Westerner may think he is, he is still personally motivated and prejudiced, otherwise he would be an inhuman monster.
And, more often than not, when he claims that he is going to set aside his personal biases and feelings in order to speak truly, as you have done in your letter to me, he is about to lie, and is trying to deceive people into thinking he will not conduct himself as usual, most often badly, which if he were honest, he might as well do, that he might be corrected when in error. For the highest Christian truth, what you enjoy capitalizing in English, as Truth, although all truths are one in Allah, is not only personal but is a Person. And this brings me to question that my students are curious about:
How can Christian Americans believe in the Supreme Person while at the same time thinking the person is some sort of dirty thing, a mask that must be set aside in order to tell the truth, which is in effect a lie?
I neglected to pose that question on their behalf in my first epistle to you. I hope you will take it under consideration now while allowing me to address you as a noble person, or “knight,” as it were. For I see that you have proven my thesis true: you have pretended to set aside your personal feelings and biases, but you could not conceal them, wherefore you launched a personal attack on your Muslim cousins.
I assume that, if you are not Semitic by birth, you are, nevertheless, Judeo-Christian by culture if not by faith. Therefore may the All-Compassionate Allah have mercy on your person for the cultivated animosity that you feel for his slaves; may you be forgiven for your defamation of their characters for being Muslims and for mercifully pointing out the hypocrisy of Jewish leaders for their own edification and for surrendering to Allah’s will and following the holy prophets.
Without Allah’s compassion, your groundless hatred of your own kind shall surely work your ruination shortly after Election Day of your Common Era year 2016. Now what have you done, within the context of the Judeo-Christian culture, other than further foment or perpetuate, with your angry accusations, the very preaching of hatred and commission of murder among us that you yourself condemn?
In fact, your speech resembles that of the more “rabid” (as you say) fanatics among our beloved people in Palestine, who are taught to hate their Zionist oppressors in schools. Their teachers fail to make a clear distinction between political Zionism and religious Judaism, a flaw that our Iranian schools are correcting under my direction.
Naturally your personal animosity is due to certain vicious defects in your personal upbringing as well as your public education, which is a political mockery of the meaning “under God” in the idolatrous pledge to a flag of a country instead of a confession of faith in Allah, conditioning all docile students in the confusion of religion with politics, and inciting them to mass murder and organized terrorism.
Naturally religion is the worship of the Absolute Power, while politics is an attempt at its worldly distribution. All peoples have worshipped the Absolute Power, the Eternal Subject of universal religion, the Giver of Life and Death. Fire was the symbol of that Power for my Persian ancestors, as well as for the ancient peoples of Bharat. (Mind you that I capitalize certain nouns as proper without intention of idolizing them).
The Pharaoh of Love looked at the ultimate form of Fire, the Sun, or rather to “the energy within the Sun,” for the solace of the Egyptian people. Our Arab brothers in the deserts preferred the Canopy to the Sun, so they looked to the vast Sky as the one and only, the encompassing deity.
Monotheism was the original religion in our great cradle of religion. But power-hungry politicians worked vainly to variously distribute Allah’s power according to their base, materialistic inclinations, and therefore the number of idols multiplied. Infidels believe that power resides in the ability to manipulate people and to accumulate wealth for their minority interests, and thus do we have the “power elite” that you have mentioned, and we have them even in so called republics and democracies – their abstract idol is money, on which they crave usurious interest.
And it is well worth noting that that both communism and capitalism idolize matter and constitute political instantiations of greed. Your own country, where many immigrants found some fortune relatively small and great because of the vast resources that the invading European barbarians plundered from its natives, is for the most part owned by a neo-barbarian superpower elite that colludes with the money-hungry power elites of its allied infidels to exploit the poor countries of their natural resources.
Your infidel leaders commit this crime against Allah’s desire for peace: that is why we call the barbarian party the Party of War; that is why Iran exports the means for freedom from the perpetual mass terrorism of the infidels.
Now you have mistakenly charged Muslims with the hatred of Jews, when it is actually the Party of War that has perpetrated the persecution of Jews, and has often done so in the name of the Judeo-Christian deity identified under the pagan rubric capitalized, ‘God.’
As a highly educated man, you must surely recall that German philosophers, before and during the Great World War, went so far as to take the Jew out of Jesus by claiming that this holy prophet was Greek, in order to justify their hatred for Jews and greed for their property. Indeed, as the hateful Satan perpetrated a holocaust, just as before the Jews and other Semites had sacrificed enemies (herem) by setting them apart and sacrificing them to their Lord, devout Catholics got on the political stage and gave the Nazi salute (my students have photos of these rallies).
In point of historical fact, Muslims have always treated Jews well in comparison to the barbaric Party of War, and had not the Muslims converted the hordes from the East to tolerant Islam, there would be no remnants of Judah today.
But allow me to return briefly to your confusion in respect to the nature of nations as the native or navel origin of tribe, clan, and folk, and from this origin to the development of diverse populations, via seed-mixing in the harlot cities, into conglomerations subservient to political states that in effect incorporated many nations yet called themselves “nations” – to wit, mongrels – and to your confusion of the political state of Israel with the Semitic tribes, and your mistaken belief that the Israelites or Hebrews before them were the only Semitic people.
You would discover if you took the political course I have laid out for my students, that there is only one god with many names, namely, Allah, and that the hatred you speak of is not the fault of religion but is rather the use of religion by the Party of War as a political excuse to set one individual against another in the name of godless liberty and democracy, to use their mutual fear of one another in their protesting irreligion to organize them into warring parties ruled by the power elite for the accumulation of material wealth via the destruction of the world. The love extolled by the infidel elite is hate-others based self-love. Such is the greed of the Great Satan.
I shall provide you with some scholarly edification on the subject later on, if you wish, but suffice it to say at this juncture that the Great Satan is doomed for his hatred of man. The Great Satan was cast down in the first place because his love for Allah was constituted by his hatred for man. It is this very hatred that is cultivated by the false prophets of Judeo-Christianity, who, on the one hand, profess love for and faith in God in the form of Divine Personality, the God-Man, yet, on the other hand, curl their lips in disdain at humanity and snarl at “humanism” like dogs.
We Muslims do not hate our own kind as infidels do. Allah alone is merciful; therefore, you are our friend only in Allah. No, my noble knight, we do not hate the Jews that you and your commander-in-chief have professed to love. But many of us hate Zionists, for they have forcefully, without a referendum, established an unwanted political state in Muslim country, where nations are anathema.
Your Friend Only In Allah,
Postscript: Incidentally, contrary to your stated opinion, neither kings nor sheiks nor emirs rule Iran. Iran is a holy democratic republic. Lest politicians stray from Allah, we have a council and a supreme holy man to keep it them in line with merciful Allah’s will.
MUSLIM INTELLECTUALS PLEASE JOIN US
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
By the very nature of their critical endeavor independent intellectuals are often at each other’s throats. Figuratively speaking, of course, for intellectuals prefer metaphors and virtual battles to mayhem and murder.
I have on previous occasions called for an intellectual rebellion or jihad against the prejudices of brute ignorance. I was tempted to place my call under the motto, “Intellectuals of the World, Unite!” But nothing seemed more incongruous to me at the time than universal intellectual integration, since each independent intellect is disposed to be at odds with the others. However, on second thought there is due cause for unison in the mental field, the project and object of our enterprise; to wit, truth. Now we might question the nature of the truth; indeed, that is the good cause of our dissension; but I think we can agree on one thing: our project is the same although our methods slightly differ.
I say “slightly differ” because of one thing intellectuals can be certain, he who seeks the truth must have his all his doors wide open for it. The intellectual keeps his mind open with doubt, but he is not dogmatically skeptical; rather he is critical, and would resort to a criterion for criticism rather than regress to the blind faith of a beast. The criteria for physics and metaphysics, the scientific methods for the natural and “supernatural” sciences, differ in their destinies, for one has the object or world in mind, and the other has the subject or self in mind as the only available avenue to the supreme being that unites subject and object; yet both still proceed with an open mind and both must strive to keep it open to be worthy of the name, “science.” Of course there is always the divisive question as to whether the metaphysical subject exists and if so whether it is a projected personal unity of consciousness of the objective world, or whether it is an impersonal substance, and so on. Yet both the physician of the body and the physician of the soul agree on the virtue of a reasonable or logical approach to the matter or spirit or both at hand. Although there are different logics or efficient mental means, they agree in throwing away error until the truth be known.
Now my monologue may be crude, but the professional professors amused by my intellectual dilettantism know very well that I struggle to unite intellects in a common pursuit no matter what their various interests may be and even in spite of their variance. For if science is to make any headway intellectuals must struggle together no matter how independent their research may be. Whatever the source of knowledge, whether from friend of foe, we should be grateful for it and share it with our colleagues. Even if we consider our competitors as strangers and enemies, then we should praise them for their virtues even more than we overlook the vices of our familiars and friends. The first great philosophical enthusiast of Islam, al-Kindi (d. ca. 866) put it this way:
“We should not be loath to value truth and acquire it from whatever source it comes, even it were to come from races distant and nations different from us. For nothing is more worthy of the seeker after truth than truth itself; and no one is disparaged through truth or belittled by it. Rather does the truth ennoble all.”
Al-Kindi’s statement is now platitudinous, but it was revolutionary in his time, an era plagued by cultural xenophobia and anti-intellectualism. Expressing gratitude for foreign intellectual contributions could and did get intellectuals killed, especially if the intellectual treatment challenged the leading authority. For example, Christian and Muslim intellectuals exchanged ideas in Damascus, capital of the Umayyad caliphate. Two scholars, Ghailan of Damascus (d. ca. 743) and Ma’bad al-Juhani (d. ca. 699) among others rejected orthodox predestination in favor of free will; it is no coincidence they were both martyred, because if the doctrine of free will were true, then a caliph would be personally responsible for his bad deeds.
The intellectual Majid Fakhry, our contemporary, wrote about al-Kindi, “the only major Islamic philosopher of pure Arab stock”:
“For al-Kindi, the search for truth, however, is an arduous task, and without the assistance of other searchers is virtually impossible. Our gratitude to our predecessors should, for that very reason, be great; they have paved the way for us and thereby made our progression towards truth so much easier. It is indeed obvious to us and to those pre-eminent in the study of philosophy among nations of foreign tongues, al-Kindi (says), that no one has been able to achieve through his own individual efforts any significant progress towards truth. Aristotle himself confirms this when he writes, as al-Kindi has paraphrased Metaphysics: ‘We ought to be grateful to the fathers of those who have imparted to us a certain measure of truth, in so far as they have been the cause of their being, and the cause of our attaining truth.'”
As we know so well, Islam was unusually tolerant of foreign knowledge and adopted and developed Greek philosophy and natural science, Indian mathematics, Persian literature; by the ninth century, nearly the entire legacy of Greek philosophy and science had been translated into Arabic. Those works were later translated into Latin and became the basis for the European renaissance. Jacques Le Goff in his Intellectuals in the Middle Ages mentions the purely Arab contribution:
“And we must not omit the purely Arab contribution (to Western culture). Arithmetic with the algebra of al-Khwarizmi – while awating the first years of the thirteenth century when Leanardo Pisano would introduce the Arabic numerals, which were actually Hindu but brought from India by the Arabs. Medicine with Rhazi – whom the Cristians called Rhazes – and above all Ibn Sina or Avicenna, whose medical encyclopedia or Canon became the inseparable companion of Western doctors. And there were the astronomers, botanists, agronomists, and especially the alchemists who provided the Latins with the feverish research for the elixir. Finally, there was philosophy, which, beginning with Aristotle, created powerful syntheses with al-Farabi and Avicenna. In addition to the works themselves, the Arabs gave the Christians words such as “number”, “zero”, and “algebra”; at the same time they gave them the vocabulary of commerce; douane [custom house], bazaar, gabelle [a tax on salt], check, etc.” (translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan)
And we must point out that the Arabs contributed the intellectual foundation of modern science, the inductive method that, as Engels and many others have noted, was introduced into England via Roger Bacon. Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic science at Oxford; he repeatedly declared that the knowledge of Arabic and Arab science was the only way to knowledge in his day. The experimental method of the Arabs was widely cultivated in Europe. That is not to say that Christian and Muslim scholars were locked in loving embrace; traditional cultures tend to consider wisdom as communal property, and if someone does not give it up it is another’s duty to “steal” it – so Christians are quoted as urging their brethren to pirate and plunder the Arab knowledge just as the Hebrew god urged Moses’ crew to grab whatever goods they could carry and make a run for it. In any event, no doubt there was a greater rapport between the intellectuals themselves than the spiritual authorities cared to preach.
Fakhry briefly mentioned a curious secret society, “Brethren of Purity” (Ikhwan al-Sufa), in his essay, a group that flourished in Basrah, Iraq, in the tenth century – other scholars date the founding at 983. I gleaned further information on this group from A History of Muslim Philosophy, edited by M.M. Sharif and from Professor Boer’s The History of Philosophy in Islam. The Brethren, unlike the anti-rationalist believers often associated Islamist freedom fighters, somewhat analogous in the West to militant fundamentalist Christians who rely on faith alone and reject rational questioning of their faith, recognized no antithesis whatsoever between philosophy and religion:
“Its eclecticism was such that it adhered unconditionally to the maxim of the absolute harmony of all truth – Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Greek or Indian. The motto of its members was ‘to shun no science, scorn no religious book, or cling fanatically to no exclusive need; since their own creed encompasses all other needs and comprehends all the sciences generally,’ as the so-called Epistles of the Brethren have put it.” (Fakhry)
Philosophical eclecticism has appeared, beginning with the Greeks, several times throughout history. In philosophy a dogmatic period is usually followed by a skeptical rebellion; when skepticism itself becomes dogmatic, refusing to recognized truth anywhere, except in its claim that there is no truth, an eclectic period responds, recognizing a little bit of truth everywhere.
Eclecticism holds that there is some truth even in erroneous knowledge, hence the task of the eclectic is to use logic to discard error and by that means distil the truth. Those who deny that eclecticism is a legitimate philosophy say their claim is logically absurd because it is tantamount to equating error with truth. Furthermore, they insist, there must be a definition of truth before one begins the search. Of course that argument is rebutted by the eclectics, who claim that the criterion for finding the truth as set by their opponents – that it must first be defined – amounts to hiding prejudices in the premises, hence they find what they are seeking by ignoring contrary evidence; they beg their questions by answering them in advance.
Wherefore we see in the Arab philosophers an early adumbration of the “inductive”, bottom-up, pragmatic approach of empirical science, in contradistinction to the top-down deductive method. The contradistinction is analogous to that of democracy and tyranny in politics. Of course the methods can work well together. A possible symbol for the articulation of the two is the prehistoric emblem of David recently adopted by the secular state of Israel. The intellectual pilgrim ascends from the base of the mountain and approaches the summit, but he also descends from time to time for air that he may confirm his ascent with a clear head. The tyrant starts at any old peak and tries to coerce the mountain to conform. Be that as it may, some scholars have associated the Brethren’s concept of ascent with Darwinism; Professor Boer says not:
“They have been represented as the Darwinists of the tenth century, but nothing could be more inappropriate. The various realms of Nature, it is true, yield according to the Encyclopedia (Epistles) an ascending and connected series; but the relation is determined not by bodily structure, but by the inner Form or Soul-Substance. The Form wanders in mystical fashion from the lower to the higher and vice versa, not in accordance with inner laws of formation, or modified to suit external conditions, but in accordance with the influence of the stars, and, in the case of Man at least, in accordance with practical and theoretical behavior. For providing a history of Evolution, the modern sense of the term was very far from the thought of the Brethren. For example they expressly insist that the horse and the elephant resemble Man more that the ape does. In fact in their system the body is a matter of quite secondary consideration; the death of the body is called the birth of the soul. The world alone is an efficient existence, which procures the body for itself.” (Boer)
Eclecticism is obviously not a one-sided denial of spiritual pursuits. For example, during the early nineteenth century the eclecticism of the French philosopher Victor Cousin gained followers throughout the world including the New England Transcendentalists. The Transcendentalists were eager to select the spiritual truth wherever they found it including Oriental sources; the term “transcendentalism”, at first an epithet for unorthodox foolishness, was taken out of Kantian context and adopted to their own needs. Their version of transcendentalism was a protest against deadwood Protestantism and the Lockean rationalizations of its puritanically inclined authorities, who were predominantly Unitarians. Victor Cousin, however, like most eclectics was a moderate. He accepted the sensationalism (“sensualism”) of Locke and Condillac, but he synthesized it with the idealism of Kant and Hegel, leading Hegel to say his friend Cousin had swiped his soup. Hence Cousin’s rationalization of eclecticism was called Spiritualism. Eclecticism was attractive at that time to faithful people who wanted to be reasonable about their faith. And it was also attractive to Arab philosophers several centuries before Victor Cousin was born.
Instead of withdrawing to the woods to speculate and to write, and meeting in the chambers of a transcendentalist club in New England to discuss the subjects appearing in their periodical propaganda organs with American names such as The Dial and The Boston Quarterly, Muslim eclectics withdrew to secret societies and discuss esoteric subjects set forth in anonymous tracts such as those compiled in the still popular Encyclopedia of the Sciences of the Brethren of Purity – that encyclopedia of fifty treatises is known as Rasail Iwan al Safa (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The Brethren met once every twelve days in their respective localities. There were rumors of partying but that sort of behavior was frowned on. A primary purpose for meetings was to cultivate sufficient wisdom in this world to build a Utopia in the next. The Brethren recruited young people because they are more docile than adults. Celibacy was encouraged; marriage was purportedly for the procreation of the race only. Furthermore, the Brethren believed members must be free to choose their own religion and to change their religion at will, providing one person did not belong to contradictory religions at the same time. Islam however was considered superior by the Arab philosophers for the same reason it is considered the highest form of monotheism by impartial students of comparative religion in the West – particularly in respect to its simplicity and singular devotion.
The Brethren of Purity believed thinking begins in the senses and continues in the mind. Since man is a microcosm of the cosmos, he may better know the cosmos by knowing himself; the only means available to know thyself is the mental faculty: the Brethren therefore were more fond of Psychology than Astrology, albeit they dearly loved both. Above all subjects they loved numbers, for they were frustrated Pythagoreans. They believed that every soul is potentially learned. Knowledge gained by the intellect from the senses must be reflected upon, confirmed by the senses, and imparted to students by learned teachers. The educational scheme proceeds with Grammar, Poetry and History, continues with Mathematics, Logic and Physics, ascends to Metaphysics, and culminates in the Godhead as the body dies and the soul is born into to the pure spiritual life.
“Praiseworthy is the free act of the soul; admirable are the actions which have proceeded from rational consideration; and lastly, obedience to the Divine World-Law is worthy of the reward of being raised to the celestial world of spheres. But this requires longing for what is above; and therefore the highest virtue is Love, which strives after union with God, the first loved one, and which is evinced even in this life in the form of religious patience and forbearance with all created beings. Such love gains in this life serenity of the soul, freedom of hear and peace with the whole world, and in the life to come ascension to Eternal Light.” Furthermore, “Our true essence is the soul, and the highest aim of our existence should be to live, with Socrates, devoted to the Intellect, and with Christ, to the Law of Love. Nevertheless the body must be properly treated and looked after in order that the soul may have time to attain its full development.” (Epistles)
Wisdom is normally obtained by the devoted student after the age of fifty, at which time the learned man does not rest on his laurels but should participate as a leader of his community. In any case, he will behave as divinely as he can:
“… love for science as added to knowledge of the essence of all beings, gained as best as one can, together with profession and public behavior in harmony with that.” (Epistles)
We cannot overstate the importance of the Arab philosophers’ insistence that religion and philosophy are not enemies. This emphasis shocked medieval European intellectuals as they translated the Arabic texts into Latin, and the controversy that ensued gradually resurrected the dignity of reason for the theologically disposed thinkers as they pored over Aristotle’s propositions that the Muslims had so carefully preserved and commented on both for and against. Arab intellectuals, as I have noted, had serious problems with the synthesis of faith and reason, or rational theology, with the caliphs and their supporters. Fakhry recapitulates the Arab philosopher’s position:
“After all, religion is not a commodity to traffic in; by setting themselves against the study of philosophy in the name of religion, the proved their added irreligiousness. Rather, philosophy is the most secure avenue to truth, and he who opposes its study is actually opposing the acquisition of the knowledge of truth, which is the primary function of religion. Hence, to brand the study of philosophy as unbelief kufr is the highest form of unbelief – nor, as the previous argument implies, downright hypocrisy.”
Fakhry concluded his particular essay with the following important remarks, after which I will conclude mine with a pointed question to all Muslims:
“…neither in the field of translation nor in commentary have contemporary Arab philosophers and scholars achieved the same pre-eminence as their ancestors during the classical period. The profound intensity and seriousness with which Greek philosophical and scientific texts were translated, studied, and commented upon by those ancestors remain unequaled in modern times. This is a great tribute to that contingent of Arab scholars who not only kept the torch of ancient learning alive during Western Europe’s darkest hours, but also pushed the frontiers further than any other nations had in antiquity since the Greeks.”
Dear Muslim intellectuals, we are forever grateful for Islam’s medieval contributions to “our” Western intellectual culture. We thank Muslim philosophers and scientists for acquainting us with the founding principles of the European renaissance, for introducing us to the humanist movement, the historical sciences, the inductive scientific method, and, most importantly, the harmony of faith and reason that shocked medieval Europe to its senses. But where are you now when we so urgently need you? Intellectuals of the World, Unite!
Majid Fakhry’s essay appears in Arabic Philosophy and the West, edited by Therese-Anne Druart, Washington: Georgetown University, 1988
A History of Muslim Philosophy, edited by M.M. Sharif, published in Karachi by the Royal Book Company, is an excellent resource, supported by ample citations.
Intellectuals in the Middle Ages by Jacques Le Goff, published by Blackwell in Cambridge. Of special interest is the chapter, ‘The Birth of the Intellectuals’
The History of Philosophy in Islam by T. J. de Boer, translated by Edward R Jones, London: Luzac, 1970, p.81 ff. ‘The Faithful Brethren of Bazra’
SUNNIS, SUFIS, SHIAS, TWO JIHADS, AND OUR DIFFERENCES
FROM THESE TERRIBLE TIMES
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“Look at the travelers on the Path of Love, how each has a different spiritual state. The one sees in each atom of the world a Sun radiant and imperishable. Another directly witnesses in the mirror of existence the beauty of the hidden archetypes. And a third sees each one in the other, without veiling or defect.” Jami
Many Americans had never heard of Sunnis and Shiites until neoconservative Christian regressives seized executive privilege in the United States and led what its commander-in-chief, President George W. Bush, openly referred to as a “holy war” on Islamic extremists or Islamists in Afghanistan, in retaliation for Al-Queda’s retaliatory attacks on installations of the military-industrial-oil complex in the States, a complex that the President’s forebears had been instrumental in establishing, and then employed pretexts – in accordance with Carl Schmitt’s dicta that one must lie to a democracy to overcome its factious nature and get something done – to dupe frightened and angry people into participating in a preconceived, pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, to destroy its sovereign government, incorporate its oil fields, and establish a Western-style, democratic-capitalist bulwark against Islamism in the Middle East. Both military actions were in direct contradiction to the professed neoconservative ideology of not participating in “regime change.”
Until the other side of the “holy war” had been brought home to them, a majority of United States citizens could not place Afghanistan or Iraq on the map, let alone the several states and cities of their own country. Still almost every American had a general notion of what Islam stood for, as opposed to Christianity, and mature Americans had studied some of its history before such studies had become increasingly irrelevant to making a living in America; of course histories were still read by history buffs, usually for entertainment, as if they were novels. A few people interested in current events followed the Iran-Iraq war instigated by Saddam Hussein, who was aided by President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan had also supported jihadist Osama bin-Laden in Afghanistan. Sunnis controlled Iraq, where some of the holiest sites of Shiites are located, while the Shiites were dominant in Iran, so the Iran-Iraq war was viewed as a sort of religious or ethnic conflict between the two main Islamic cults. Still, few people knew much, if anything at all, about the religious difference between Sunnis and Shiites, especially since the difference was confused by regional politics.
As the United States was waging war in Iraq, newspaper columnists tried to distinguish between Islam’s two main branches because the difference had something to do with what was perceived as an unjust imbalance of power in Iraq. For example, Bill Tammeus, news editor and faith columnist for the Kansas City Star, wrote a useful article entitled, ‘Centuries of strife split Sunnis and Shiites.’
It is indeed important for the public to understand that, despite Islam’s professed universalism and the apparent superiority of Islam’s monotheism in that regard, compared to the feel-good faith of Christianity that fosters international strife in the name of its own one-god, Muslims are not all of a piece or at peace with one another nor have they ever been. Neither are we, for that matter, and our own differences are so similar to their differences and to other people’s that we have good reason to hope to resolve them via a universal global accord with a common political-economic religious theology posing as ideology. The wars fought until then shall increasingly be revolutionary wars and civil wars, instead of world wars between powerful states – that is not to say that World War III is impossible. Iran’s totalitarian regime has most lately set itself up for a fall – a push from the Great Satan i.e. the United States shall not be required – and perchance an Islamic state shall arise despite that being a contradiction to the religion.
Mr. Tammeus did not support the difference he drew, with examples of the strife between the two main Islamic branches, so that we could compare the divisions with our own. He might have pointed out that the Shiite faith, given its expectation of the appearance of the Hidden Imam, and its hierarchical structure, is more ‘compatible’ with apocalyptic and catholic Christianity than the Sunni faith, which has its similarities with protestant and secular Judeo-Christianity.
To further our confusion, the Kansas City Star’s faith commentator brought Sufism into his discussion, parroting the widespread notion that “Sufism is the small but influential mystic branch of Sunni Islam.” But Sufis worship saints – the various schools or paths were founded by various holy masters – and holy places and relics, which is anathema to orthodox Sunnis, the grossest infidelity as far as iconoclastic Muslims are concerned. That is not to say that the average Sunni cannot be tolerant, and submit to Allah’s judgment as to whether or not He is properly worshiped by someone or the other, or that the Sunni cannot at least be pragmatic whenever Sufis can be useful to them, especially in politics and war.
Sufis themselves have a reputation for tolerance wherever tolerance suits their purpose. They are famous for their professed love of God and their fervent desire for unity with the deity. The godhead is one thing if not no-thing or Nothing, and the religious forms of worship are something else, something secular or worldly. When in Rome we might do as the Romans do yet not lose our essential faith. The Romans required lip-service to the state religion, and a person could maintain his personal faith on his homely hearth. Christian martyrs, however, sacrificed themselves to be identified as bearing witness; yet Christians ultimately took up many of the Roman ways and became the state religion.
Why should not Sufi mystics be good Pythagoreans and observe whatever exoteric religion prevails while maintaining their esoteric preference? Indeed, Sufis have dared to claim that their mystical cult predates both Islam and Christianity. Classical Sufi author Moulana Nuruddin Abdorrahman Jami (Hakim Jami) of Herat, in his Alexandrian book of wisdom, identified esoteric Sufism with Western thinkers, naming Hermes Trismegistos, Pythagoras, Hippocrates and Plato as Sufis. As for that intelligence and learning from which we draw so many differences between ourselves, Jami said it is nothing to boast about, nor should people boast of their humility. He noticed that people have been taught to declaim dishonesty, but what they really abhor is hypocrisy.
Americans have enjoyed a romantic perspective on exotic Sufism since it was imported into the United States. Popular Sufism is associated with love and god, and with poetic, musical, and dance rituals that purportedly bring the devotee into harmony with the cosmos and unity with the godhead. Surely, we think, if everyone were a Sufi at heart our world would be peaceful. Or a mystical Hindu, or Christian, or Buddhist, et cetera; for the essence of true religion is the Supreme Being. Well, we may sing the same song and dance the same dance, but movement requires the exertion of force and harmony is born of conflict. If we in our particulars were the One, we would not be at all in our particulars. Religion may worship absolute power, but politics is required for its distribution. Religion has its politics in its practices. Although the morality of religion may be virtual suicide if it aims at the annihilation of the striving self, the struggle for life naturally goes on, for we would all endure forever without resistance if only we could, but if there were no resistance to our will, we would not exist as we are.
Mysticism may help the mystic get along in the world, to be at peace even when moving, to be blissful momentarily, and to tolerate human evil, or to be, at least in attitude, beyond good and evil. Yet there is nothing moral about being at one with an indefinite or infinite One. You are at one with God and you feel great, as if you were God Almighty. So what? What are you going to do about evil? He who ignores evil by transcending it or saying it is nothing but the absence of good is no good to anyone.
To wit: a mystic is not inherently good. A mystic may be an angel or devil or both. Sufi masters are not inherently good or holy simply because they practice mysticism and conduct the rituals of their preferred paths. They remain human beings in the world, a world necessarily political in its power struggles, and their regions of the world may be awful trying. To illustrate that fact and its consequences, our faith columnist and news editor might have, before he identified Sufism with Sunni Islam, proceeded with an investigation of the then current official status of Sufism in Uzbekistan, and the official persecution of religious dissidents, most of whom are Sunnis, with the cooperation of the United States in the “war on terrorism”, i.e. highly organized, well-equipped, uniformed terrorism against loosely organized, ill-equipped terrorists who also think they are fighting for “freedom.”
The Sufi persecution of dissident Sunnis in Uzbekistan is derived from the old policy of the U.S.S.R. Our faithful columnist might study the history Samarkand, and examine, for example, Tamerlane’s slaughter of reputed infidels in India. And he will find a history of sectarian violence in the mountain regions, especially those of Afghanistan and the Caucasus, once Sufi strongholds. He might note that the current leaders of the Naqshbandi sect of Sufism brag of their origin near Samarkand, and claim that they have always been peaceful; but they have always been politically involved and extraordinarily deceptive; by the way, their missionaries led the Chechen jihad against the Russians.
If in his historical journals the faithful student journeys south and west from the mountains, he will see that Sufi dervish cells were formed as a reaction to Sunni theocratic domination, a reaction against universalism and imperialism. He could conclude that Sufi spiritualism has more in common with Shism than Sunnism, instead of stating, “Sufism is the small but influential mystic branch of Sunni Islam.” Sufis were tolerated for political reasons by both Shiites and Sunnis, but efforts were eventually made to stamp out their cells, which reacted with more secrecy. The cellular type of organization is well known to freedom fighters, regardless of their races and creeds, throughout the world.
Given human nature, we should not be at all surprised to hear that Sufis have enthusiastically fought on one side or the other. Of course they are better known for fighting against imperialism than for it. The fact that Sufis on the whole put themselves on the path of ‘tasawwuf’, the consciousness or spiritual state of being of the perfect man, in distinction to his outward actions and spoken laws (sunna), does not mean they will not, for instance, behead an infidel, and perhaps use his skin for their war drums – as was done with Russians in Chechnya, where the Sufi Death Song was still chanted by rebels in our time.
We might believe that Sufis are political quietists, but history loudly speaks otherwise. Just because someone abhors the existing human world and obtains direct loving access to god does not mean he must withdraw to a mountain or desert cave or monastery cell to chant the names of god and leave the world alone. No, in addition to withdrawing to constantly remember god, he may become a knight of god or Muslim ghazi and wage a holy war or jihad on the evil world he has renounced. The ghazis were closely associated with Sufi orders. Not only did Sufi dervishes follow the warriors around, banging on drums and eating live snakes to inspire and entertain the troops, they also led the warriors in battle. Sufi ascetic discipline inured the body and mind to suffering: fasting, a strict regimen of praying, single-minded concentration, and related practices are not only conducive to passive martyrdom at the stake or on the cross but also to martyrdom on the battlefield. Still today the adept dervish engages in practices, such as whirling, that render him impervious to pain, enabling his body to be cut and burned without flinching.
We recall that the ghazi institution developed from the association of Arab with Turkish warriors. During the seventh century, Islam penetrated northeast into Transoxiana, a region north of Afghanistan, on the old Silk Road to China used by the Romans. Islam was joined there in the eleventh century by the Seljuks, a branch of the Turkic peoples who dominated the Asian grasslands from Mongolia to Russia. The Seljuks were precursors to the Ottoman Empire and the modern Turkish state, which descended from one of the ghazi principalities left after the fragmentation of the Seljuks by the invading Mongols who had followed the Seljuks south from Asia via the same gate.
After the Seljuks settled in Transoxiana, they converted to Islam and soon became masters of what revered Sufi Sheikh Kabbani, while attending a UNESCO conference in Uzbekistan, called the “Spiritual Heart of Islam.” (emphasis added). The Seljuks expanded southeast to capture Baghdad in 1050. The caliph obligingly appointed the Seljuk ruler sultan. The sultans thereafter became the temporal rulers of the Abbasid Empire, the caliphs remaining in office as mere puppets.
The Seljuks soon penetrated into Asia Minor and eventually prompted the First Crusade. They were joined by ghazis, frontier Muslim raiders and warriors. At first the ghazi bands had resisted the Seljuks, yet they eventually became closely allied with the Turks. Besides the prospect of ample material loot to be had from sedentary Christian settlements, the ghazis and the invading Turks had a common spiritual purpose under the one and only god. Nomadic warriors and the unemployed came from far and wide to wage jihad on Christians at the Byzantine frontier. The overall objective was political domination rather than conversion to Islam: it was more a case of your money (tax or tribute) or your life. Some people converted to Islam and argued that, since they were Muslims saved from Hell, they were therefore immune from the death penalty if they did not pay the tax; their arguments for immunity, however, fatally failed.
By the end of the fourteenth century, the ghazi ways had been adopted by the Turks and most of Turkish Asia Minor was ruled by ghazi groups. Each ghazi brotherhood had a spiritual leader, and most of the ghazis belonged to a dervish order. After the break up of the Seljuk Empire, the Ottoman Empire emerged from a small Turkish state occupying the border between Islam and Byzantine Christianity, ruled by Osman 1299-1326). An Ottoman ruler was thenceforth called a “border chief” or leader of the ghazis. A fourteenth-century saga calls ghazis “the instruments of God’s religion… God’s scourge who cleanses the earth from the filth of polytheism… God’s pure sword.” The principle and cornerstone of Ottoman political theory and the Ottoman state was the Sixth Pillar of Islam: Jihad.
The number of Sufi heroes waging war are legion. For instance, take Hasan al-Basri (642-728), who participated in the Arab conquest of eastern Iran in 663. His name is found in the genealogies of many Sufi orders. In the Sufi classic, ‘Nourishment of the Hearts’ (c. 970), he is acknowledged as “our imam in this doctrine… and we walk in his footsteps.”
Hasan was known for his puritanical piety. He rejected the world he described as a “venomous snake”, and he made the gnostic claim that creation was a bad mistake instead of something the creator was pleased with after making it. His gnostic views greatly influenced the kind of Sufism which had its ascetic roots in Arab displeasure with the Persian luxuries that perverted the Arabs as they swept north, creating a vast gap between rich a poor, a tiny, enormously wealthy minority in contrast to the desperately impoverished majority.
Hasan denied that a man can excuse himself by saying god caused his actions. He preached humility and the sort of self-scrutiny that became a cornerstone of Sufism. He extolled altruism. He scorned the pedantic reconstruction and transmission of lines of authority. He is well known for the depiction of antitheses, famous for his vivid, masterful images of heaven and hell. Muhammad’s promise of Paradise to martyrs and Hell to infidels was vital to his jihads.
Of course Sufis are not best known for either/or thinking. Usually, after engaging in antithetical thinking on fear and hope, hell and paradise, and the like, Sufis masters discounted the divisive process in favor of union with the god beyond relative good and evil; by way of example, here are two excerpts, one from the female love-mystic Rabiah al-Adawiah (d.801), the other from the male poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131):
O my lord, if I worship thee from fear of hell, and if I worship thee in hope of paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship thee for thine own sake, then withhold not from me thine eternal beauty.
Nobody, heart, has seen heaven or hell,
Tell me, dear, who has returned from there?
Our hopes and fears are of something which,
My Dear, there is no indication but the name.
Hassan had numerous followers from a wide variety of backgrounds; they are described in the literature as Koran reciters (qurra) and pious warriors (mujahidun). They despised social injustice, luxury, and especially hypocrisy – that is, the contradiction between inner and outer jihad, thoughts and deeds.
Another freedom fighter was Abd al-Wahid bin Zayd (d. 750). Wahid provided vivid images of Judgment Day to his followers: he admonished them to prepare to meet their maker. Wahid informed his disciples that God bestows secret knowledge on His righteous friends.
Wahid admired Christian monks for their disdain of the world and its sinners. He reportedly founded the first Sufi cloister on the island of Abbadan, a military outpost which became a training station for Iraqi ascetics – Abbadan was a major attraction for jihad-minded Muslims. The post was manned by ghazis who combined military service with religious worship – the ‘dhikr’ or constant citing of God’s name was practiced there.
We should also mention Ibrahim Ibn Adham, a native of Balkh (a city in today’s Afghanistan). He was said to have given up a kingdom in order to go out West to live as a vagabond and farmer. When there was nothing to reap, he fasted, meditated, practiced sadness, engaged in gnosis and divine friendship with God. He eventually settled in Syria, on the border with Byzantium. He died waging outer or “lesser” jihad: he was killed in the second of two navy battles he participated in.
Fahad Ansari, a specialist in anti-terror legislation, a researcher and spokesperson for the Islamic Human Rights Commission, posted an informative article on the Web about Sufi Jahidis: ‘Remembering the Great Tradition of Sufi Jihadis in Muslim History.’
Mr. Ansari complains that even those Muslims who fight against injustice and oppression are labeled “extremists.” Only “moderate” Muslims are acceptable, that is, only those who are willing to compromise their values, to be assimilated into the Western culture, keep their religion to themselves, and otherwise embrace Western and secular values. He points out Westerners believe that Sufis, whose mystics have a reputation for universal tolerance, are moderates with whom alliances against extremism can be forged. But they neglect the fact that Sufis established a reputation for fighting both Eastern and Western imperialism. He refers to three modern Sufi jihadis:
Omar Mukhtar aka the ‘Lion of the Desert,’ a Sufi member of the Sanussiyah tariqah or path, “led the jihad against the Italian military occupation of Libya for over twenty years beginning in 1912. Although a teacher of Quran by profession, Mukhtar was not one of those about whom Allah says, ‘Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget to practice it yourselves, and yet ye study the Scripture.” Mukhtar said, “We fight because we have to fight for our faith and our freedom until we drive the invaders out or die ourselves.” He was captured in 1931 and shackled despite his old age (70). He recited sacred verses while tortured, and was finally hanged.
And Abdul-Qadir al-Jazairi, an Islamic scholar and Sufi member of the Qadiri tariqah, led the jihad against the French invasion of Algeria. “Abdul-Qadir showed himself to be a leader of men, a great soldier, a capable administrator and a persuasive orator. He ultimately failed to defeat the French because of the refusal of the Berber tribes to unite with the Arabs against the French….” He was forced into exile, died in Damascus in 1860, and was buried next to the famous Sufi, Ibn Arabi.
And Imam Shamyl aka ‘The Greatest Imam’, a Sufi follower of the Naqshbandi tariqah, imparted Islamic law to the pagan tribes of the Caucasus and led them against the Russian invaders. Shamyl was a powerful man and great warrior himself. He taught his followers war chants, some of them still used by Chechen rebels, including the famous Death Song. The Russians admired him, sparing his life and allowing him to retire – he died in Medina in 1871.
“Mukhtar, Abdul-Qadir, and Shamyl,” states Mr. Ansari, “are just three examples of how tasawwuf was not regarded as an obstacle to armed jihad but as an inspiration for it. There are countless other examples.”
After referring to so many Sufi heroes of so-called Lesser Jihad, it would only be fair to mention the philosophical heroes of greater jihad; several notable spiritual fathers of Sufism were unwilling to fight the external albeit “lesser” jihad for militant Islam, preferring instead the internal or “greater” spiritual struggle. Despite Islam’s early predilection for militant jihad, mystically inclined Sufis still insist that jihad is unqualifiedly and essentially an internal struggle to put down the selfish self or internal enemy that craves mundane existence. The mystical revolutionary should direct animosity towards the real enemy within; he should meditate or enlist God’s help with virtual suicide; and, if action is absolutely necessary, then he might whirl about the non-dimensional point he wants to make, chasing his own tail instead of hastening towards specific goals. One becomes properly centered in or becomes the One: the cosmic dance provides a thrilling feeling of bliss, somewhat like a spinning top would feel if only it were alive.
The outward revolution of the whirling dervish is obvious, but the inner struggle, called the greater jihad, of the devotee to conquer himself, is invisible and does not appear to be revolutionary at all. Having thus conquered himself, the proudest man is the most humble man of all, a man purportedly more powerful than any worldly king, for he does not need a king to rule himself: he has submitted to the greatest sovereign of all, and is thereby saved from Hell and even the Paradise that makes Hell a hell by comparison.
If only everyone would comply and become the Holy One, peace, if not law and order under a theocracy pending the Last Day, would prevail in the outer world: for as it is in heaven so it should it finally be on Earth – that Earth would no longer be inhabited by warring human beings if their particulars or differences disappeared in the One. Ironically, only a violent revolution could impose a kingdom of God over every man as we know him. Each monotheistic person secretly believes his or her one-god is better than all the other one-gods put together. A lesser or militant jihad may be required to reconcile them all, but still the pacific struggle is preferable to war, hence it remains the greater jihad.
Sufi theorist al-Qushayi (d.A.D. 1074) provides us with insight into psychological jihad in his ‘Treatise on the Knowledge of Mysticism’:
“Al-Sulami said that his grandfather heard Abu ‘Amr ibn Janid say, ‘Whoever is generous with his Self attached no importance to his religion.’ Know then that the basis of striving and possession of it is weaning the Self from what it is accustomed to, and bearing the Self contrary to its desires generally, for the Self has two characteristics which prevent it from the good; indulgence in lusts, and abstinence from obedience.”
Furthermore, here is an excerpt from the great Baghdad Sufi saint, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Quadir al-Jilani’s (d. A.D. 1166) sermon ‘The Opening of the Unseen.”
“Each time you struggle against your lower self and overcome it and slay it with the sword of opposition, God restores it to life and it contends with you again, and demands of you your desires and delights, whether forbidden or permissible, so that you must return to struggle and compete with it in order to carry off the everlasting reward. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s saying – God bless him and give him peace – ‘We have returned from the lesser jihad (war) to the greater jihad (self-control).”
Also worthy of mention is the famous Baghdad mystic and martyr, Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, who was born in 857. He lived alone for twenty years, and was trained by several great Sufi masters of the time, but he broke away from them to do his own thing as an itinerant preacher. He wandered far and wide, from Arabia to the Indian subcontinent. His famous ecstatic exclamation “I am the divine Truth!” was the ultimate heresy to Muslim monotheists, who did not even believe the prophet Jesus was a divine incarnation let alone this mere vagabond. Hallaj also violated a vital principle of the great Sufi masters of his time and of mystics from immemorial: to keep one’s mouth shut about such incomprehensible experiences; the secrets of mystical union should only be divulged to sworn initiates.
Hallaj was flogged, mutilated, exposed on a gibbet and decapitated. Thus was he victorious as a martyr to love, as one who fought the inner fight or “greater” jihad. He had written:
Kill me, my trusted friends,
for in my death is my life!
Death for me is in living, and
life for me is in dying.
The obliteration of my essence
is the noblest of blessings.
My perdurance in human attributes,
the vilest of evils.
According to tradition, the severed head of Hallaj repeatedly said, “I am God.” The drops of blood on the ground spelled out the same statement.
Finally, to arrive at a balance between the inner and outer struggles, or the greater and lesser jihad, we should mention a much later Sufi, a poet of a love with all its cruel anger besides its tender affection: Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273). Almost everyone knows that Rumi loved to dance, that he was a great poet, and that his son founded the ever popular Mawlawiyah Sufi order of Whirling Dervishes. Rumi was born in Balkh but his family removed to Konya, Anatolia (Turkey) to avoid the advancing Mongols. The family was warmly received by the Seljuk authorities. Rumi’s father continued his career as teacher and sheikh, and Rumi was educated in the religious sciences. When his father died, he assumed his father’s teaching post.
In 1244 Rumi met Shams al-Din (Sun of Religion), a wandering dervish, to whom he became the Moon, living with him for two months while Shams revealed the occluded Mysteries. Rumi’s family was reportedly jealous and scandalized by the intimate relationship, and Shams was sent away. Rumi was naturally disconsolate. Shams was recalled but disappeared shortly thereafter; he may have been murdered, perhaps with the knowledge of Rumi’s brothers. Rumi had two subsequent spiritual lovers, but Shams, his first love, was the inspiration for his poetry. In his nearly 40,000-verse work, Divan-i Shams-i Tabriz, he signed Sham’s name to the poems.
Inside a lover’s heart
There’s another world,
And yet another.
Rumi’s other masterpiece, Mathnavi-yi ma-navi, or Spiritual Couplets, is sometimes referred to as the Persian Koran. The Mathnavi consists of mystical teachings in the form of long poems, fables, stories, proverbs, anecdotes, and allegories. It is basically an extended commentary on the Koran and the Hadith (traditional sayings of Muhammad). The Mathnavi was a virtual Bible to Sufi-guided ghazi warriors. Therein, Rumi speaks of the tension between the inner and outer jihad.
In one Mathnawi story, a vain Sufi who is flattered by widespread praise of his spiritual conquests and who has contempt for the lesser jihad of war, joins soldiers in order to demonstrate his outward virtue as well. During his lesser jihad of actual combat, the arrogant Sufi is exposed as a coward, giving the lie to his former spiritual claims.
On the other hand, in another story Rumi portrays a military hero who flees from the ardors of spiritual struggle to the relative comfort of the bloody battleground.
We understand this lore because the tales are all too human. The difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘us’ and the ‘others’ is very little and is artificially contrived. Obviously, given the crucial crisis underlying mind and body, given the crux of thought or symbolic action and deed or actual action, there is much room for hypocrisy on both the mental and material stages; but for the mystical actor those stages are one, and hypocrisy is resolved by the holy spirit.
The more we inquire into the differences between the people far from our peaceful shores, the better shall we understand ourselves, and the better we understand ourselves in our likenesses to them, the better we can serve the world by sharing with them the better things of life, instead of behaving like self-centered automatons. Sufi masters have considered the universe as a web of mutually supporting systems: a Kurdish Sufi reportedly said in ancient times, “Everything that exists maintains and is maintained by other existences.” Whether or not we are willing to give Sufis credit for discovering this law of reciprocal maintenance, we have an opportunity to pay down the debt of our existence, for we cannot progress on the spiritual path until we fulfill our obligation to our being on this planet. The least we can do after testifying to our good intentions with fine words is avoid the appearance of hypocrisy in our deeds.
Kansas City 2004
Sunna: custom, the words and practices
Shia: following, or sect
Suffi: suf or wool, safa or purity, sophos or wisdom?
I have yet to receive a response to my last letter asking several leading questions posed by my students, and I hope to hear from you soon for the sake of peace.
Now a great tragedy engulfs Iraq and the United States because your President Bush, who said his “political hero” was Jesus Christ, used his awesome power as the military commander of the United States superpower to initiate an unprovoked war on Iraq; or rather, there was a provocation – a pack of lies deliberately put forward to deceive the people of the world.
All of this appears enormously profitable to the people whom President Bush and Vice President Cheney represent, particularly the power elite with a vested interest in the military-oil-industrial complex, including the tyrant puppets of the United States in the Middle East; but what does empire have to do with Jesus Christ, President Bush’s political hero, except that Christ was unafraid of empire for the sake of Allah, and was charged and convicted of a capital crime and crucified by the Romans at the instigation of his own people?
President Bush may not become a true peacemaker or disciple of Jesus Christ until he dies again and is born again a thousand times over. So do not believe, my friend in Allah, that you are safe from terrorism because your president is waging war all over the world, for the Terrorist Almighty is within, and all of your riches and weapons of mass destruction shall not protect you from his wrath. Your present peace, notwithstanding the sins of your leaders, is due to the mercy of Allah.
Beware and repent now for the time is nigh: “Those that make war against God and His apostle and spread disorder shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the country. They shall be held up to shame and sternly punished in the hereafter; except that those that repent before you reduce them. For you must know that Allah is forgiving and merciful.” (The Table).
Indeed, the Final Hour, the Day of Judgment, rapidly approaches. In the interim, it is my main contention that those in power do not rule indefinitely; their names will be recorded in history and they will be constantly judge in the immediate and distant future.
Again, my students sometimes ask me questions about certain subjects that I may not have honest answers for, questions that you, an American patriot and military hero, may be able to answer.
For instance, my students examined old maps and documents but they were unable to find a country named Israel over sixty years ago, so they assumed Israel did not exist before then. They wanted to know why Israel was created, so they conducted some research into the question and learned that Israel was created because several million Jews had been killed in the war; the victors felt guilty about that, and gave them their own state. They asked me two questions after our morning prayers today:
1) Is it not true that the establishment of a new country with a new people is a phenomenon that is exclusive to our times?
2) How does the killing of six million Jews translate into the establishment a new state in the Middle East, particularly when the population of the region is opposed to its presence?
3) What logical justification does the United States have for its support of that intrusion? Since the Infidel Knights of the Round Table are well versed in this subject, I am hoping that you will help me answer these questions so I can enlighten my students.
Please allow me to respond to your inquiry. First off, we are not “Knights” of the Round Table, as you have addressed me as such, for we do not claim to be so special and carry such noble purpose. We are Round Table Rascals. However, many of us do try to put our personal feelings aside in search of truth, or at least admit our personal biases, when discussing a topic, so others will more clearly understand why we opine as we do.
The way I see it, what divides the world today is that radical Islamists are radical inasmuch as they wish to distinguish themselves from their Jewish and Christian forebears and exterminate everyone in disagreement with their misguided fundamentalist agenda.
Your students are shortsighted, as you very well know yet fail to instruct them on the historical facts. The bulk of known written history dates back almost 6,000 years. The Semitic people were, in fact, the nation of Israel. The Muslims actually “splintered off” from the existing tribes of Israel and went their own way, creating Islam. This is why they revere the same prophets and even Jesus. For whatever reasons, historically, there was inculcated not only a disdain for Judaism, but a rabid hatred, which has grown, exponentially, to this day.
Historically, Jews have not preached hatred or declared war and death to Muslims, but Muslims blame all their problems on, and teach their children to hate, all Jews, merely because of their being Jewish. What kind of religion propagates itself through hatred and commission of murder? If a corrupt Sheik, Emir or King allows the majority of his people to wallow in poverty and hatred, and amasses all the land’s wealth for his own greed and selfishness… why do the downtrodden scream, “Kill the Jews!”? The Iraqis aren’t screaming “Kill the Jews!” They know that their problems lie within their own country and how it needs to be governed to the advantage and enrichment of ALL their people, not just a power elite.
The Doomah Discourse is taken from dialogue on the Roundtable of Authorsden.com that took place circa 2003. For sake of argument, David Arthur Walters adopted the role of Dajen Doomah, an Iranian English teacher. ‘Roundtable Rascal’ is the late Hanley Harding of South Florida, an heroic American patriot, Navy SEAL, and the best friend one could ever have in terrifying times.
Maulana Muhammad Ali, since age 25 “a soldier for the literary service of Islam”, translated verse 99 of Chapter 18 of the Quran as follows:
“And on that day We shall leave a part of them in conflict with another part, and the trumpet will be blown, so We shall gather them all together.”
Muhammad Ali explains: “There is a change here from the historical to the prophetical. The Gog and Magog of the old days were to have their representatives in the latter days. The only other reference to Gog and Magog in the Holy Quran is contained in 21:96, where they are stated as taking possession of all places of advantage and eminence. This would identify them clearly with the European races; and the Slavs (settling as they do in Russia, the land of Magog) and the Teutons may therefore be suggested to be the modern representatives of Gog and Magog, and the verse prophetically refers to some mighty conflict of the European nations and to their ultimate gathering together in Islam which alone can settle their ideological differences.” (The Quran, 1948 edition).
The other Quranic reference to Gog and Magog in Chapter 21 (The Prophets), verse 96, appears under Section 7. – ‘The Righteous shall inherit the Earth.’ Muhammad Ali translates the verses 94-105 of the section as follows:
“So whoever does good deeds and he is a believer, there is no denying his exertion, and We write (it) down for him. And there is a ban on a town which We destroy that they shall not return. Until when Gog and Magog are made to overcome (the world), and they break forth from every elevated place. And the True Promise draws nigh, then lo! the eyes of those who disbelieved will be fixedly open: O woe to us! We were heedless of this: nay, we were unjust. Surely you and what you worship besides Allah are fuel of hell; to it you will come. Had these been gods, they would not have come to it and all will abide therein. For them therein will be groaning and therein they will not hear. Those for whom good a already gone forth from Us will be kept far off from it; they will not hear its faintest sound, and they will abide in what their souls long for. The great fearful event will not grieve them, and the angels will meet them. This is the day which you were promised. The day when We roll up heaven like the rolling up of the scroll for writings. As We made the first creation, (so) shall We reproduce it – a promise (binding) on Us; surely We shall bring it about. And indeed We wrote in the Book after the reminder that the earth – My righteous servants will inherit it…”
“Those for whom good has already gone forth from Us”, namely people who believe in God, will be kept at a distance from the hellish horrors. Further, the Prophet said that whosoever believes in God and future life and acts righteously, “on him shall come no fear.” Most importantly, the Prophet’s official policy on religion is “There is no compulsion in religion.” Many historians have remarked at length on the international character of Islamic law and its applicability even to enemies, in contrast to the frightful persecutions carried out by crusading Christians. However that may be, we should keep in mind the different historical circumstances of Jesus and Muhammad, and try to understand why, on the one hand, Jesus ordered the Sword sheathed in favor of the Word, pending Constantine’s vision of the Holy Cross on the battlefield, and why, on the other hand, Muhammad could not wait for a Constantine to defend Islam.
We do have evidence of glaring breaches in the Prophet’s official policy of tolerance. Nevertheless, whether Islam’s success is by Word or by Sword or by both Word and Sword, the phenomenal growth of Islam in its infancy seemed to prove that the whole wide world would on the Last Day recognize one deity. Muhammad Ali makes note of that view as follows:
“The Qu’ran has repeatedly stated that Islam would ultimately be made triumphant in the world. The righteous servants of God, we are here told, would one day be masters of the land. The words no doubt contain a prophecy of the possession of the Holy Land by the Muslims, which was fulfilled in the caliphate of Umar. Compare Ps.37:29. But, we are further told that the whole earth would be a Holy Land in the end.”
The Quranic story of the end time, of Gog and Magog, presages the Final Conflict between Good and Evil, the Dualism arising in Paradise with human knowledge of the difference between the two. Man is accordingly booted from the primeval garden, endowed with free will to make the prerequisite choices so that he may return to the virginal womb in heaven if not on Earth – special virgins await martyrs in Paradise. If man in rebellion will not return from evolved complexity to ultimate simplicity, then to Hell with him – as if Earth were not already hellish enough from the consequences of the original sin of being born into the wicked human world in the first place.
On Earth, pain has always had a slight edge on pleasure – bliss is death, for in bliss there is no motive to move. Yet in the final analysis, Good shall win over Evil, thus we may argue that there is a universal good, or a good God over all. In the interim, some sort of objective division between Good and Evil is required, no matter how arbitrary, something clear and concrete to protect us from the roving forces of Evil. A wall might suffice to protect sedentary folk and their precious utensils from bandit bands, hence they would do well to give thanks and kiss the wall protecting them from the curse of evil invaders.
An army might sally forth from behind the walls of one of civilization’s centers and make war in pre-emptive self-defense or simply for the sake of revenge, – then who is the evil barbarian? The world is conquered by the militant force: the defenders are killed or enslaved, settlements burned or exploited. Thus civilization is grounded in crime, and Good arises from Evil; otherwise there would be no Progress to Good. But now we are on the horns of a dilemma, even confronted with the gnostic heresy that the old god who kicked us out of Paradise may have horns, may be a fallen angel, the Devil himself.
The Quran informs us that the two-horned hero named Dhulqarnain, during his travels far and wide, was asked by a certain people whose speech was almost incomprehensible to protect them from the Gog and Magog, whereupon he built them a barrier or wall of iron – an Iron Curtain. The Gog and Magog were typical “barbarians from the north” at the time – Scythians, Cimmerians or other ancestors of later barbarians. There are various accounts of the original event in folklore, handed down with related historical sketches and other fragmentary evidence. Opinions vary as to where the Iron Curtain was built, and, for that matter, who Dhulqarnain really was. The popular position is that Dhulqarnain was Alexander the Great – one of Christianity’s adopted, virtual saints – that it was no less than he who built the wall at Derbent by the Caspian Sea. We may believe otherwise and take the minority view that the two-horned hero was Cyrus the Great – savior of the Jews – and that the prototypical event took place near what is now known as northern Afghanistan, the traditional home of Zoroaster, the hater of nomads who recognized Evil and its roving demonic bandit hordes as distinctly divided from Good and its attendant court of settled virtues. The final score between Good and Evil might then be settled not in Iraq or Israel but in that ancient region.
I LIKE TO PULL A WOMAN’S LEG once in awhile just to get her goat – by that I do not mean her behorned husband. Of course I do speak figuratively: ballerinas with jammed joints have asked me to literally pull their legs to unjam their joints as they held on to a post or to the barre.”You know, women were traded like cattle in the old days, as a sort of basic barter or unit of exchange,” I casually stated to Joanne, my favorite bartender at the Hi Life cocktail lounge on Amsterdam Avenue.
“Just goes to show you how smart those men were to know how valuable women really are,” she retorted without pause.
As wise as I deemed myself to be at the time, I was suitably impressed by her sagacity. To enlighten her further, I went on to explain, in simple terms of shoe shiners exchanging shoe shines, why a dollar bill is a shoeshine debt given to shoeshine creditors who have faith in its value as an instrument of exchange: thanks for the shine; I owe you one; here’s a buck; when your shoes get scuffed; you can get a shine anywhere. Joanne was awed by my intellectual prowess, or maybe she was just a good bartender and actress – she had in fact finished her first Hollywood movie but there was some doubt as to whether it would ever be released. Incidentally, her Halloween costume one year was the popular Dumber than Dumb fellow – I treasure my photograph of her disguised as same.
In retrospect I knew how rude I had been on that evening, likening women to cattle, then assaulting her with crude economics! Which gave me cause to wonder, What sort of creatures are men?
Anyway, I thought of Joanne while I was reading The Sabres of Paradise by Lesley Blanch many years later – last night – wherein women are likened to camels. As we know, camels are so highly valued by nomads that camels have served as exchange barter. For instance, a male slave was once valued at 10 camels, while a female slave was worth 20 camels; a dowry would cost the bridegroom at least 50 camels. Furthermore, camels have been used to settle blood feuds as follows: a death is paid for with 100 camels; testicle injuries were also once avenged with 100 camels; a broken arm or leg was valued at 25 camels, whereas a broken finger was worth only 10 and a broken molar maybe 8 – the incisor was worth only 5 camels.
Of course camels are more valuable than dollars since a dollar may get you nowhere when inflated – still, a camel can be like a white elephant to a humble city dweller who cannot maintain her even in the sparse manner she was accustomed to.
Be that as it may, and assuming there is no accident where Allah presides, I am moved to discuss the context provided by Lesley Blanch for her brief mention of the comparison of women to camels.
According to the Prophet, “Paradise is under the shadow of swords.” Lesley’s book is about the jihad carried out by the fierce warriors of Dagestan and Chechnya against the Russian “civilizers” in the Caucasus. The old conflict in that region between mountaineers and would-be “civilizers” goes on to this very day. The early eighteenth-century jihad was organized by Sufi fundamentalists of the Naqshbandi order. I was reading Lesley’s romantic portrait of the great hero Shamyl, third Imam of Dagestan, who had been gravely wounded in battle. He was recuperating in the mountains, where he was visited by his slim and graceful wife Fatimat.
“Like all Caucasian women,” Lesley wrote, “Fatimat was very slim and graceful…It was the custom for Caucasian girls to be laced into a tight corselets of deerskin which constricted and formed their narrow bodies… The corselet was put on, with ceremony, around the age of eight, and it was never removed until their marriage, generally at the age of fourteen, or thereabouts, when it was the bridegroom’s privilege to rip open the seams with his kindjal.” Or, he might ceremoniously untie knot after knot, and be ridiculed for any apparent impatience.
Now Fatimat’s husband Shamyl was a preacher of Shariat, strict Muslim law, which was the Islamic demonstration of Caucasian unity against the Russian infidels. As a Sufi shaykh, Shamyl was committed to the disciplined ascetic life which fits in rather nicely with the life of a ghazi, warrior for the Faith. While he was nursing his wounds in the shepherd’s hut, his sister visited him adorned with jewelry, treasure salvaged from the destroyed village where he was wounded; the sight of opulence caused his wounds to burst open. A few authors attribute the outrageous reaction to an old superstition among the mountain folk, that precious stones prevent wounds from healing, but Lesley tells the more popular story, that is, the politically correct one most probably insisted on by Shamyl himself:
“Later (after he suffered his relapse), when Shamyl insisted on miraculous powers and divine support, he used to declare his wounds had reopened in a protest directed by Allah against his sister’s jewels, against her wanton display of earthly treasures wholly unacceptable to the Lord. And there was no one who cared to dispute it.”
But apparently Shamyl was not altogether opposed to a modicum of luxury or lust where his beloved wife was concerned. Lesley says no doubt he loved to visit Fatimat between his campaigns. She was a Daghestani gentlewoman: Lesley describes her customary attire as rather elegant: “…loose, flowered silk trousers, almost hidden by a full-skirted, tight-wasted surcoat with wide, flowing sleeves and elaborate silver-braided fastenings. A great many gold and silver coins hung from the end of the long black braids… Fine muslin veils and coloured silk kerchiefs were wound round her head and across her face when she left the privacy of her quarters; and on gala occasions she wore a tall pointed cap or head-dress, from which more veils flowed. In summer, she went barefooted; in winter her slippers were protected from the mud and snow by high wooden clogs or pattens. Instead of the bourka which men wore against the piercing Caucasian winters, she was wrapped in an embroidered felt cloak lined with fox skins, or sables even.”
I believe Fatimat’s appearance at Shamyl’s rude mountain hospital must have had a more beneficial effect on his wounds than that resulting from his sister’s visit. Our author supposes that the respite the couple had together was a virtual paradise despite their spartan quarters: a hut made of rough stones piled together on the stark, barren mountain side, unchinked gaps open to the weather, with a thatched roof of twigs and boughs dragged up from a lower, vegetated elevation; upon the roof are cheeses patted into rounds, and bricks of dung used for cooking which impart to food its delicious Caucasian flavor.
Before Fatimat arrived at the hut, she was believed to have wandered around the mountains looking for her wounded husband, and to have been captured or killed by the Russians.
“After a while Fatimat was forgotten,” Lesley reports. “Women were of little consequence, to the Faithful. They were chattels, scarcely held to have souls. Yet Shamyl loved his wife with so consuming a passion that once, during a battle, learning she lay at death’s door, he abandoned everything to go to her.”
Now we should know that a man does not have to be a Muslim to consider women and even men for that matter as chattels. In fact, if we pay close attention to the early history of Islam, we shall see Muslim women were actually treated relatively better than than they were previously handled according to Arab tribal law. Of course their status eventually deteriorated to virtual enslavement when men became frightened by their own desires, blaming women for their own lust and jealousy: the double standard certainly came in handy while elaborating stringent laws regarding adultery, polygamy, concubines and instant divorce for men. Unsold single women or those who had not been given away were by law relatively free, perhaps to starve or to be kidnapped pursuant to the ancient custom of wife-snatching.
Even the pre-Islamic Persian veil became ignoble evidence of male jealousy and fear of women’s power rather than a sign of noble decency or at least discreet indecency. The veil once screened the decent gentlewoman or discreet concubine who did not have to work like a bare slave or a poor woman. Even today the head-to-toe purdah is fashionable in some quarters where women prefer to be judged as equals rather than as sex objects. For example, before the men of Afghanistan were recently frightened into fundamental totalitarian unity to save their identity, women wore purdahs over their miniskirts and high heels – one never knows when an atavistic warrior might ride by. Yet when all women became slaves to fearful fundamentalism, the purdah becomes mandatory garb everywhere, even for slaves laboring in the field. As for the concubines of the rich man’s harem (“sacrosanct”) which he secluded behind a tall curtain or wall (purdah) instead of sharing them at the central temple as was the custom elsewhere, he could treat them as well as his four wives differently according to divine revelations.
But never mind, after reading what Gandhi once referred to as a “sewer inspector’s report” of particular short-comings, we should also keep in mind that men in general have always loved women more than they have hated them. Moreover, men seem to wind up in the long run as slaves of their slaves.
As for Shaykh Shamyl’s piety, Lesley does not believe he was a fanatic about Sufi renunciation when it came to enjoying his wife; after all, the Koran states: “Woman is thy field, go then to thy field and till it.” On the other hand, Lesley does not appreciate the following quote as much as the first one:
“Woman is the camel to help man though the desert of existence.”
II. First Things First
I PREFER THE SECOND FIGURE of speech over the first one, and I know my favorite bartender at the Hi Life cocktail lounge would approve of my evaluation. Mind you, I do not believe the fertile ground of existence is any less important than the camel thriving on it, but a nomad must get to it over barren desert and bleak mountain trails. For that purpose his camel is indispensable, and, when he gets to where he is going, he looks forward to leaving.
Furthermore, I take the fundamental dirt for granted, at least more so than I do the romantic camel. In my romantic mood I have good company. Inspired by the camel, Lawrence of Arabia shifted from prose to waxing poetic, giving the lie to the notion that heroes love their horses but have no similar affectionate bond with their camels. Forsooth, ‘camel’ is rightfully a term of endearment for ordinarily docile creatures who will, in season, fly into fits of rage and spit in your face if their love is impeded – the males enjoy legendary notoriety for such fits: Aristotle said an enraged camel bit a man’s head off. By the way, for those who are interested in courting, female camels flirt then resist, sometimes getting banged up pretty bad in the process.
Be that as it may, Muhammad enjoins men to treat camels well: “He said: Behold this she-camel. She hath the right to drink at the well and ye have the right to drink each on an appointed day; and touch her not ill lest there come on you retribution. But they hamstrung her, and then were penitent.”
It is wrong to mistreat any animal including the human animal, but it certainly is no insult to camel or to woman to favorably compare woman with the camel, a creature even more sacred than the holy cow. The life of Arabs living in the desert steppes once depended on her milk as their primary food source: the scientific student shall find higher concentrations of intestinal lactase in Arabians whose ancestors relied on milk for generations. Muhammad himself had 20 milch camels acquired in a raid; he prized them for their daily production: two large skins of milk – the yield per milch camel ranges from 1 to 7 litres per day. In drought-stricken environments other animals bred for meat and milk die, but the camel survives and continues to produce calves and milk. Now taking into account the millions of people who starve annually, the camel is in fact capable of carrying man across the existential desert in more ways than one.
With that in mind, It certainly behooves us to briefly extend our cursory examination of the camel – time and space do not permit a thorough discussion of the camel’s 40,000,000 years on Earth.
The attentive reader may notice I occasionally refer to the camel in general as a “her.” I do so not only because I am weary of using “he” for humans, but because she is the mother ship, the “ship of the desert”, the “land ship”; like all ships, the camel deserves a feminine pronoun. Of course man and woman share most qualities; there are distinctions to be made; the male/female division is arbitrary to a degree, yet we enjoy sex too much to dispense with it on the whole. In any event, please do keep the affinity of the sexes in mind instead of their battle when examining my camel, knowing full well no blatant sexism inheres in my descriptions. After all, Muslims say “Muhammed was a camel, loved the camel, and praised the camel.” Furthermore, before proceeding with our little sketch, we should note that camels have not had their French Revolution, hence male camels have permission to dress just as gorgeously as females. That being said, we continue apace.
Camels originated in North America. Knowing that mankind would eventually need them in Asia, they embarked on the Great Camel Exodus across Alaska – completed nearly a million years ago – and familiarized themselves with the desert and mountain terrain of Asia. Their smaller kin – llamas, alpacas, guanacos, vicunas – headed south on missions to South America. Camels did not return to North America until just before the Civil War, to join the U.S. Camel Corps – camels were also introduced to Australia where 15,000 now run wild. Alas, despite their virtues and credentials including military service under the likes of Cyrus the Great, Hadrian and Napolean, certain exigencies and the development of the railroad caused the U.S. Army to desert them; a few ran wild in Arizona until 1910; domesticated camels now living in Texas will be glad to entertain your family.
The prehistoric Bactrian camel populated Turkistan; one was eventually sighted there drinking water from the river Bactrus in Bactria, an ancient area roughly corresponding to the province of Balkh in northern Afghanistan where Zarathustra (Golden Camel) eventually settled. The Bactrian camel developed two humps in anticipation of Zarathustra’s religious Dualism, the Good and Evil Twins especially celebrated by Zoroastrians who love mountainous regions and pure Fire.
The Arabian or dromedary (dromus = running) camel developed a single hump for desert dwellers who prefer the one and only god. Of course the Arabian camel settled in Arabia and awaited man’s convenience; ancient dumps reveal man was eating wild camels in southern Arabia around 3,000 B.C., where the transition from hunting to taming camels is believed to have occurred. No less an Asian despot than Solomon was once said to have fully domesticated the camel to expand trade and therefore advance civilization East and West. But Solomon, if priests told the true story, has rivals: Abraham, the father of Jews and Christians, allegedly traded his lovely wife Sarah to Pharaoh for some camels amongst other goods. Well, no doubt Solomon exploited the amazing prehistoric creature who was already becoming according to God’s providence man’s nourisher, means of transportation and medium of exchange.
Recall how the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon with treasure-laden camels to find out if he was as great as he was reputed to be, whereupon they held a royal potlatch to see who could outgive the other. Solomon apparently won: Sheba left with more than she arrived with – the gold she came with was alone worth millions of current dollars. Her legendary camel-riding career is certainly not to be ignored in any good camel essay. She was claimed by Ethiopa and, based on the rumor that she had a son with Solomon, whom Solomon made King of Africa, the emperors of Ethiopia from 1270 B.C. to 1975 A.D. have claimed descent from Solomon’s father, David – curiously, the genuine Ark was supposedly secreted out of Jerusalem and taken to Ethiopia. Nigerians also lay claim to the Queen and her famous camels. Yet now it appears from excavations of the 3,000 year-old Mahran Bilqis (Temple of the Moon) in southern Arabia that the famous queen of Bible, Talmud and Koran presided over the cradle of Arab civilization, its capital being Marib in Yemen, on the main caravan route beside the Red Sea.
Still, only camels know for sure who the Queen of Sheba was or who was first to domesticate them – and do forgive me for virtually ignoring the Bactrian camel here, as I do so not from racial prejudice but from ignorance. Anyway, for Solomon’s sake, suffice it to say the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet is gimel, representing the three-fold or holy mount. Yes, another letter of the alphabet symbolizes the bull – but never mind that, or the defamed ones who invented the alphabet.
As we know, nomadic Arabs depended on the camel for their existence. They also knew she would come in handy in the afterlife. It was customary to tie a camel to a man’s grave – but not for long, since she might be stolen. The camel is one of the Prophet’s ten animals in Paradise.
Allah was Muhammad’s most important spiritual concern; however, according to one allegation, there was only one thing on Earth more valuable to Muhammad than a fine camel: the head of his worst enemy. A man must put first things first; for example, one must first live in order to love, and when his worst enemy is hiring assassins to interrupt his loving, he must attend to the priority. At the time of the Prophet’s First Jihad, one of his worst enemies, Abu Jahl, was immediately available for execution at the battle at Badr.
According to Ibn Ishaq (85-151) who recorded the early allegations about the Prophet’s life, on Friday morning, the 17th day of Ramadan (624), in the valley of Badr, the Apostle ordered his companions to attack, and retired to his hut. After two Muslims were killed, he came forth from his humble headquarters to encourage his men, promising Paradise for martyrs.
As the warriors on both sides advanced, Abu Jahl was hear to cry: “O God, destroy this morning him (Muhammad) than more than any of us hath cut the ties of kinship and wrought that which is not approved.” Furthermore, as Abu fought that day, he was heard to say:
“What has fierce war to dislike about me,
A young he-camel with razor like teeth?
For this very purpose did my mother bear me.”
Muhammad was overheard praying: “O God, don’t let him escape me!”
Towards the end of the battle, the Prophet ordered his men to search for Abu among the slain. Some time prior, Muadh had fought Abu and cut off his leg. Then Abu’s son nearly cut off Muadh’s arm, but he went on fighting, dragging his arm behind him until he eventually stood on it with one foot and tore it off – he survived the battle. Another Muslim, Muawwidh, smote Abu and left him for dead – Muawwidh was then slain. Yet another Companion, Abdullah, complying with the Prophet’s order to find Abu’s body, found Abu nearly dead, cut off his head, and presented it to Muhammad:
“This is the head of the enemy of God, Abu Jahl,” said Abdullah.
“By God than Whom there is no other, is it?”
“Yes,” affirmed Abdullah, and threw Abu’s head before Muhammad, who then gave thanks to God.
Now, then, where is the camel in this story? It is in another version of the story related by R.F. Dibble in his 1926 book MOHAMMED (Viking) and by several others such as Sir William Muir. Exulting over the victory, Muhhamad saw Abdullah approaching with Abu’s head, and exclaimed:
“The head of the enemy of God! God! there is none other God!”
“There is none other!” agreed Abdallah, dropping his gory prize before Mohammed’s feet; and Abdallah almost fainted from bliss when the Prophet continued, “It is more acceptable to me than the choicest camel in all Arabia!”
Thus has the legend been elaborated over the centuries. Incidentally, it is said that the first blow rendered by a Muslim on behalf of Allah was delivered during the 13 years of persecution that led up to the first jihad: infidels were throwing stones at praying Muslims; one injured man, As’d ben Abi Waqqas, seized the jaw-bone from a camel’s carcass and beat his attacker with it.
III. Camel Characteristics
I AM INSPIRED TO SAY MORE about the camel’s personal characteristics. Arab poets have owned her as a precious gem, the most beautiful woman of all, with silken cheeks, shapely falcon ears, and a long neck which is slender as a minaret. She has long, slender legs to boot – she rocks smoothly from side to side when she strides, making inexperienced men feel quite giddy. She admittedly enhances her stature with an illusion: she is not as tall as she looks. She has great lips and a large mouth full of teeth, hence Chesebrough Ponds might sign her for a Pepsodent commercial; be careful, camels bite! By the way, the camel’s eyebrows are a bit bushy and her ears are cute and fuzzy.
Oh, yes, when she is really thirsty, Camel Woman can drink people under the table; although she is sure-footed, she has not been seen dancing on one – much to her credit in conservative lands. She is docile, but as we have seen, despite the legend that camels keep their affairs secret, she and her partners act up when feeling salacious.
Furthermore, she might eat you out of house and home, devouring both your blanket and your tent if you don’t eat her first – only a fool would abuse a camel. She has keen vision and can spot a man at a distance; she can be skittish of men or pigs if she has not seen one for a long time or if a strange one approaches – a camel does tend to wander off in search of her original home -; nonetheless, she has remained calm under gunfire and beside speeding locomotives and automobiles even when she has not seen or heard them before.
In fact, her hearing is acute, although she tends to ignore commands. She is a very hard worker half the time. If worked over six months, she might have a breakdown. Every man gives different figures for how much weight she can carry and how far she can carry it in a day – I use “she” for all camels, so speak to a nomad before loading up your camels equally – say, to be safe, 330 lbs. for 8 hrs. at 3 mph; others say more. When the load is heavy, she will complain, groan and bawl when getting up to go to work; if she had her druthers, she would rather not work up a sweat, and would instead like to lay around in the shade.
This might surprise you: she always needs a new fur coat each winter. Kings and Penitents wear her old coats in sheer admiration of her royal and dignified bearing. St. John the Baptist wore with distinction his camel-hair dress. Long before the appearance of Jesus, those in the know knew the camel is the Ark of Civilization who carries the Seed from Oasis to Oasis. Occultists know her as the Desert Dragoness, the Eternal Chariot and Throne who bears the Sun Dragon from occlusion to occlusion across the desert of existence.
IV. Noble Camel Nomads
CAMELS ARE THE PRIDE AND JOY of the distinguished nomad. The noble nomad is fiercely independent and is free of urban foibles because of his confidence in God’s greatest gift, the camel, a divine creature whose vigorous endurance is unmatched by any other creature; a creature not only beautiful but who, in accord with the old maxim “Handsome is as handsome does”, went so far under heavy loads in desert and mountain terrain as to replaced the wheel, man’s foremost progressive invention. For instance, by the seventh century A.D. carts and wagons were almost completely replace by the camel in North Africa. Not to mention that the Arabs would not have been able to save the world from the Dark Ages without the utilitarian camel.
In any case, if the nomad follows the camel’s natural inclination to preserve the ecological balance by cooperating with it, he shall survive along with her. Of course the Iron Rod of Allah is not suspended, a case in point being the fate of the Lost Caravan of 1805: nearly two thousand people and a like number of camels missed the route between Timbuktu and Taoudent – they perished of thirst. Of course romantic people love a challenge, hence it is no wonder the shiek progeny of nomads who settled down for capitalism and its laborious divisions still have camels kept; they love to drive to their summer tents in a Mercedez; some keep a nice tent next to or on the roof of their palaces. Unfortunately, as eloquently revealed by the professor of jurisprudence Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) in his authoritative introduction to history, THE MUQADDIMAH:
“…Sedentary life constitutes the last stage of civilization … the last stage of evil and remoteness from goodness … Bedouins are closer to being good than sedentary people (who are) … accustomed to luxury and success in worldly occupations and to indulgence in worldly desires. Therefore, their souls are colored with all kinds of blameworthy and evil qualities…”
We know sedentary men would walk a mile in expensive boots over burning sands for a camel. They would go much farther than that in the good life if they were not chained down to jobs and were not so short of breath from chain smoking – something Muhammad never did. But a hardy nomad who emulates his camel will upon occasion walk about for three months searching for his beloved camels, taking with him nothing more than a skin of water and faith in God’s providence.
Alas, again I have given short shift to the two-humped Bactrian camel, perhaps because of my one-humped monotheistic conditioning – I shall do penance elsewhere and at length. Before closing, I must address a sensitive “issue” (i.e. a problem) of concern to camels in general, one that is problematic to the politically correct; namely, the camel’s alleged stupidity.
V. Camels Ain’t Stupid
HORSEMEN PREFER HORSES and insist their steeds are far more worthy, both as friends on the trail and in battle, than camels, whom they call – and it pains me to say this – “unresponsive and stupid.” Yet the pride and prestige of “people of the camel” far exceeds that of horsemen. A few words of caution here: one must be careful about speaking highly of horses around camels, for camels hold grudges; a camel owner might throw down his shirt for the camel to trample on first so normal relations can be resumed.
To each his own prejudices and species. Still, I believe the objective man, taking everything into consideration, would favor the camel over the horse. I know some men who actually favor camels over women; they say they do so because women are more intelligent than camels, hence a discriminating man must take his camel and leave his wives and concubines at home – if he can afford their upkeep. You see, he discriminates between intelligence and wisdom, giving a greater weight to a camel’s native wisdom than to a woman’s cultivated intelligence – he does not deny intelligent women have some camel wisdom, a sort of homing instinct associated with Water.
Camels travel to return to the original Well, the Font of wisdom and Source of life across the existential desert. Herds will run towards distant rains. More mysteriously, the Arabs say a foal knows the well its mother drank from before it was born – camels will take off and show up where they were foaled, say, 30 miles or more away; nay, camels have been known to somehow arrive at their point of origin 1,000 miles away.
Our Ship of the Desert is a celestial vehicle as well, a flying camel no less adept than Airvarta, the Hindu god’s flying white elephant. She is the sign of God’s creative power. Sure-footed and calm in the valleys of death and on the mountain sides, she carries the spiritual seeker to his goal, the Divine Presence. If a pious Muslim builds a mosque, then, after he dies the mosque will transform into a white camel to carry him across the Bridge over Hell.
Finally, a story about Muhammad’s favorite camel aptly illustrates the spiritual significance of the camel. I believe the foregoing along with the evidence hereafter shall finally prove it is no insult to compare woman with a camel and to say:
“Woman is man’s camel across the desert of existence.”
The Prophet had managed to escape from Mecca. A posse was on his tail: the Quraish had issued a Wanted Dead or Alive warrant with 100 camels as bounty. After hiding in the cave where he and his companion Abu Bakr were saved by a spider and a dove, they continued their Flight to Medina. Once Muhammad had arrived in Medina and rested, he mounted his white camel Al Kaswa and let go of the reins. Al Kaswa wandered about the streets as the crowd cheered Muhammad’s safe return. Al Kaswa stopped and knelt under some date palms over an old burial ground, indicating the place where Muhammad built Islam’s first mosque.