The Plagues of Amwas and Justinian: The 200 years long series of plagues and pestilence and the conquest of Muslims over Rome and Persia

0

Part 1:

 

During Umar bin Khattab’s caliphal rule, early Muslims experienced a sum of disasters which convinced them that the Day of Judgement is upon them. 

During the last 1400 years, every generation of Muslims have had at least some groups and/or leaders who assured others that the Day of Judgement is imminent, yet the force of this conviction of impending apocalypse was perhaps never stronger than in the year 639 of Common Era (18 of Hijri). 

The primary reason for this certitude was prophet Muhammad’s two hadeeths: 1) The prophet Muhammad, holding out his middle and index fingers, said, “My advent and the Hour (of Judgement) are like this (or like these),” namely, the period between his lifetime and the Day of Judgement is like the distance between his two fingers, i.e., very short (https://sunnah.com/bukhari/68/50). 2) During the Ghazwa of Tabuk while he was sitting in a leather tent, the prophet said, “Count six signs that indicate the approach of the Hour: my death, the conquest of Jerusalem, a plague that will afflict you (and kill you in great numbers) as the plague that afflicts sheep, the increase of wealth to such an extent that even if one is given one hundred Dinars, he will not be satisfied; then an affliction which no Arab house will escape, and then a truce between you and Bani Al-Asfar (i.e. the Byzantines) who will betray you and attack you under eighty flags. Under each flag will be twelve thousand soldiers.” (https://sunnah.com/bukhari/58/18).

The prophet died in the year 632 CE, Muslims conquered Jeurasalem in 638 CE, and during the same year the regions of Levant and Arabia experienced such a severe famine that according to historian Ibn Abi Hajala, the sand of the Arabian peninsula turned black and thousands died due to hunger. He adds that caliph Umar’s body turned so weak that companions feared his death was upon him, and that in the Muslim chronicles the year 638 CE (17 of Hijri) was recalled as the Year of Ashes.

Since historically plagues have often followed famines, it is no surprise that soon after the famine a series of plagues began appearing in many Middle Eastern cities. In the Levantine city of Amwas (Emmaus Nicopolis), where Muslim army had been camping, the plague spread with such swiftness that according to several Muslim historians within a few days more than 25,000 Muslim soldiers died, including several prominent companions of the prophet. (Note: the figure of 25,000 shouldn’t be taken literally, as pre-modern historians often meant by such numbers to signify a large amount of people; there was of course no way to count the specific number of bodies.)

The most prominent among these companions was Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, who is among the ten companions preordained by the prophet to be one of his companions in paradise. Abu Ubaidah was appointed by caliph Umar the head of Muslim army in Syria replacing Khalid Bin Waleed, and under his competent leadership Muslim army won a series of battles, moving from Jerusalem to Beirut to Damascus with lightening speed. Umar had even said that if Abu Ubaidah had stayed alive, he’d have been the one appointed as the third caliph. But after Abu Ubaidah’s unfortunate death during the infamous Plague of Amwas, Umar conferred the governorship of Damascus on the competent shoulders of Muadh ibn Jabal. But soon after even he died, along with his son Abdul Rehman and his two wives. The prophet had said about Muadh that he will lead all Muslim scholars into the gates of paradise. The person who replaced him was Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan but soon plague took his life too. The fourth person to be appointed the governor of Damascus was Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan who was fortunate enough to survive the plague and thirty years later announced the beginning of his own caliphate and in doing so launched the Umayyad caliphate that continued for next hundred years. 

Meanwhile, during the year 639, according to several hadeeths and Arab historians, caliph Umar traveled with two military battalions towards Syria, but when he reached the borderland region of Sargh, he met Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Yazid ibn abi Sufyan, and Shurahbil ibn Hasana, all three of them had traveled down there from the garrison town of Amwas to inform him that a plague had spread at a brisk pace along the cities of Syria and he’d be better off returning back to Medina with his soldiers. According to the famous 9th century Arab historian Abu Jafar ibn Yazid al-Tabari, the caliph first consulted the early migrant ‘Muhajirun’ Muslims of Makkah and then the Medinans, but both groups differed. One said that it’s not wise to return after heading out to fight in the service of God, and the other said that it is a caliph’s duty to protect his soldiers and thus it is logical to return. Then Umar sought the view of those Makkans who had converted to Islam after its conquest by the Muslims. They were quick to suggest that the army should immediately head back. “This time, no two men among them disagreed, but they all said, ‘Return (to Medina) with the men; this is an affliction that may bring about our ruin.’” 

Next morning, as narrated in The History of al-Tabari Volume XIII (Trans. Gautier H. A. Juynboll), when Umar got ready to leave, Abu Ubaydah said to him, “Are you fleeing from God’s providence?” “Yes,” Umar replied, “I flee from one divine ordinance to another. Don’t you see? Suppose a man goes down into a riverbed with two slopes, one fertile, the other barren, does the one who grazes his animals on the infertile slope not do so according to God’s ordinance, and does the one who grazes his animals on the fertile one not do so according to God’s ordinance?” Umar went on, “If somebody other than you had said this, Abu Ubaydah, . . . ,” (presumably Umar meant he’d have punished him). Then he went with him to a spot away from the people. While the men were thus busily readying themselves to depart, suddenly Abd al-Rahman bin Awf appeared on the scene. He had been following at a distance and had not been present yesterday. He exclaimed, “What on earth is the matter with the men?” So he was told. Then he said, “I know something about this which is relevant.” Umar said, “In our eyes you are a truthful and honest man,- what can you tell us?” Abd al-Rahman said, “I heard the Messenger of God say: ‘When it comes to your notice that there is a pestilence in a certain country, do not go near it, and if it breaks out while you are in it, do not flee from it then.’ Therefore, Abd al-Rahman concluded, “nothing should make you leave this place except those words.” Umar exclaimed, “God be praised, so leave, all you men!” Then he departed with them. (https://sunnah.com/bukhari/76/44)

What follows after the departure of caliph Umar is narrated by Al-Tabari in these words: 

“According to Ibn Humayd—Salamah—Muhammad b. Ishaq— Aban b. Salih—Shahr b. Hawshab al-Ash’ari—someone from his clan who, after his father had died, was left behind to take care of his mother and was an eyewitness of the plague of Amwas, (in other words Shahr’s stepfather), “When the disease became widespread, Abu Ubaydah stood up among his men and delivered the following speech, “Men, this sickness is a mercy from your Lord, a request from your Prophet Muhammad and it has caused the death of the pious who died before you; I, Abu Ubaydah, ask God that He assign to me my share thereof.” Suddenly he suffered (an acute attack of) the disease, as a result of which he died. Muadh ibn Jabal was appointed as his successor over the people. He went on: Then, after that, (Muadh) delivered a speech in which he said, “Truly, men, this sickness constitutes a mercy from your Lord, a request from your Prophet and it has caused the death of the pious who died before you; I, Muadh, ask God that He assign thereof a share to my family.” Then his son, Abd al-Rahman bin Muadh, suffered (a sudden attack of) the plague as a result of which he died. Then Muadh stood up and prayed for a share of the disease for himself, after which it smote him. Indeed, I saw him looking at his palm, then he kissed the back of his hand and said, “I prefer not to have anything of this world (together) with what (I have) in you (i.e. my hand).” When he had died, Amr bin al-‘As was made his successor over the people. Amr stood up to address the people and said,” “Men, when this sickness strikes, it spreads like wildfire, so let us run away from it to the mountains.” Then Abu Wathilah al-Hudhali said, “by God, you are known to us as a liar. While you were still no better than the donkey I sit on, I had already become a Companion of the Prophet.” But, he went on, “by God, this time I will not reject what you say. I swear by God, we should not stay here!” Then he departed and the people went with him and scattered in all directions. Eventually God took the plague away from them. He went on: News of this opinion of Amr bin al-‘As reached Umar bin al-Khattab and, by God, he did not raise objections to it.” 

In fact, Umar appointed Amr bin al-‘As head of the Muslim army in Egypt, and he famously led the Muslim conquest of Egypt within the next five years.

It is vital to give the Sargh and Plague of Amwas accounts in detail here because during the next several centuries Muslims were beset with an interminable series of plagues and pestilence, and this Sargh debate, along with three germane hadeeths, were rehashed each time by Muslim scholars in their dogged debates about how to countenance these plagues. One of those hadeeths was mentioned above by Abd al-Rahman bin Awf, and the second one is included in Sahih Bukhari according to which the prophet said, “‘No Adwa (i.e. no contagious disease); nor (any evil omen in the month of) Safar; nor Hama (a bird used to foretell future) exists.’ A bedouin asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! What about the camels which, when on the sand (desert) look like deers, but when a mangy camel mixes with them they all get infected with mange?’ On that Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Then who conveyed the (mange) disease to the first (mangy) camel?’” (https://sunnah.com/bukhari/76/84)

And according to the third hadeeth, “Narrated Aisha (the wife of the Prophet): I asked Allah’s Messenger about the plague. He told me that it was a Punishment sent by Allah on whom he wished, and Allah made it a source of mercy for the believers, for if one in the time of an epidemic plague stays in his country patiently hoping for Allah’s Reward and believing that nothing will befall him except what Allah has written for him, he will get the reward of a martyr.” (https://sunnah.com/bukhari/60/141)

Thus keeping in mind the judgements of prophet’s companions at Sargh, and the three aforementioned hadeeths, Muslim scholars and jurists have had three foremost opinions on plagues and pestilence: 1) that all plagues and pestilence are a gift from God to believers but God’s wrath for unbelievers, and that a Muslim who dies due to a plague is a martyr, 2) that a Muslim should neither enter a plague-infested region nor escape from it, and 3) that there is no truth to contagion, all disease and deaths are directly from God.

(Side note: I’ve got to mention here Lawrence Conrad’s excellent paper, Umar at Sargh: The Evolution of an Umayyad Tradition of Flight from the Plague. Conrad is the preeminent historian of plague and medicine in the medieval Muslim world, and in this paper he scrutinizes the evolutionary nature of the seven riwayaats of the Umar at Sargh narrative and convincingly concludes that it’s an invention of 9th century Arab historians involved in debate over the nature of plagues, that there is no doubt Muslim army was stuck with a major plague and that many prominent companions died including Abu Ubaidah, but it is doubtful if Umar had ever led an expedition towards Syria (since no rowayaat properly explains the nature of the expedition), and that even if he had taken an expedition, the debates are certainly invented. He argues that each of the seven riwayaats of the epidsode has bits added to it for literary and rhetorical purposes, and that in this case the riwayaats were adopted by later muhaddiths. 

He writes, “The Umar at Sargh tradition provides a valuable example of how an account that in its earliest extant form simply seeks to report Umar’s journey and the reason for its failure, could be so elaborately revised and altered as to lose almost all contact with its original basis (insofar as we have access to this stage of the process) by the time it reached its fully developed form. Specifically, it illustrates how a sophisticated Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad could evolve from what had earlier been a simple historical khabar.” He adds, “it bears notice, however, that the Umar at Sargh materials do not support the commonly asserted position that the genre of akhbar originated from that of hadith, indeed, they illustrate development in precisely the opposite direction.” Later, “the actual journey is henceforth reduced to the role of a frame story that provides the setting for an effort to address major doctrinal and theological issues that had not drawn the attention of earlier tradents. Specifically, the tradition now raises the problem that as all things – including plague – come from God, flight from stricken places and prudent cautionary measures against the epidemic would seem at least to reflect deficient faith, or even comprise defiance of the will of God. The advice of three groups of Muslims neatly sets the stage, an altercation between Umar and Abu Ubayda, soon to fall victim to the Plague Amwas, poses the issue of divine will, and a solution is found in Umar’s parable of the herdsman in the wadi. The tradition of the Prophet, however, lacks the authority to settle the matter, and rather only introduces the problem. In this and all subsequent versions, the Qur’anic motif of consultation with the Companions proves to be crucial.” And finally, “If it seems reasonable to concede that Umar ibn al-Khattab actually did undertake a journey that was terminated prematurely by the outbreak of plague in Syria, the fact remains that even the later tradents, creative in so many other ways, were at a loss as to what to make of this journey. Only the last version, heavily embroidered in all respects, goes so far as to say that Umar was ‘on a campaign’ (ghaziyan), but which campaign? Such lack of differentiation is in itself suspect, and no other source knows of any military expedition led personally by Umar, to Syria or anywhere else.”)

All of this gets infinitely more fascinating once we expand our field of vision in both space and time from Hijaz and Syria to the greater Middle East and the Mediterranean world and from merely the 630s to the entire 6th and 7th centuries and beyond. Because around 150 years before the year 639, Christians of the Byzantine Middle East and Persia had convinced themselves that the world is about to end. (Hence, the thesis of many scholars, Stephen J. Shoemaker prominent among them, that Islam was a natural, though uniquely Arab, product of the greater Mediterranean zeitgeist of the Late Antique 6th and 7th centuries, and that the prophet Muhammad and early Muslims were motivated by their belief in an imminent apocalypse.) There were several reasons for this belief among 6th century Christians: 1) Using dates given in Bible, Christian clergy figured that the world will not age beyond 6000 years, and by calculating the ages of prophets they estimated that the age of the world had already reached 6000 years during the sixth century. 2) Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation had prophesied that right before the second coming of Jesus, the world will be enveloped in a series of wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes. And sixth century had indeed been a long century of quite literal darkness enveloping the Mediterranean world and beyond, ushering with it several episodes of plagues, famines, earthquakes, a Late Antiquity version of climate change, indeed a “Global Cooling,” and to top it all, a century long tug of wars between the Roman/Byzantine empire and the Persian empire. These endless calamities had hollowed out both these grand old empires, politically and financially, to such an extent that a new group of warriors were able to emerge from Arabia and in quick succession topple both.

 

(It’s a four part series. The first part deals with the Plague of Amwas and, briefly, its impact on debates about plagues among medieval Muslim scholars, and historicity of the Plague of Amwas tradition. Second part expands to the Justinian Plague (the most fun part). Third one on the 6th century Byzantine Persian wars and the rise of Islam. Fourth part on the 4 major plagues during the Umayyad period given in Muslim historical traditions and, briefly, the rise of Abbasids.)

(If you like what I do, please consider supporting me:

 ko-fi.com )

Bibliography:

History of al-Tabari: The Conquest of Iraq, SouthWestern Persia, and Egypt Vol XIII (Trans. Gautier H. A. Juynboll)

Arabic Plague Chronologies and Treatises Social and Historical Factors in the Formation of a Literary Genre, Lawrence I. Conrad

TA ‘UN AND W’ABA: Conceptions of Plague and Pestilence in Early Islam, Lawrence I. Conrad

The Comparative Communal Responses to the Black Death in Muslim and Christian Societies by Michael W. Dols

Epidemic disease in central Syria in the late sixth century: Some new insights from the verse of Hassān ibn Thābit, Lawrence I. Conrad

Abraha and Muḥammad: Some Observations Apropos of Chronology and Literary “topoi” in the Early Arabic Historical Tradition, Lawrence I. Conrad

Life and Afterlife of the First Plague Pandemic, Lester K. Little

Historians and Epidemics: Simple Questions, Complex Answers, Jo N. Hays

‘For Whom Does the Writer Write?’: The First Bubonic Plague Pandemic According to Syriac Sources, Michael G. Morony

Justinianic Plague in Syria and the Archaeological Evidence, Hugh N. Kennedy

Crime and Punishment: The Plague in the Byzantine Empire, 541–749, Dionysios Stathakopoulos

Bubonic Plague in Byzantium: The Evidence of Non-Literary Sources, Peter Sarris

Procopius and the Sixth Century, Averil Cameron

When Numbers Don’t Count: Changing Perspectives on the Justinianic Plague, Monica H. Green

Rejecting Catastrophe: The Case of the Justinianic Plague, Lee Mordechai, Merle Eisenberg

Ancient Yersinia pestis genomes from across Western Europe reveal early diversification during the First Pandemic (541–750), Marcel Keller and others

The Political and Social Role of Khurasan under Abbasid Rule 747-820, Elton L. Daniel

On Hijab

3

Hijab was clearly a pre-Islamic practice in Middle East, and had been in use since at least two thousand years before Islam. Though it’s debatable if its use was for moral reasons or for class distinctions or both. It is first mentioned in Assyrian law codes (1200 BC) for women to cover their heads when in public, though concubines were strictly prohibited from using it. (Similarly, in Islamic law concubines are prohibited from wearing hijab or niqab.) From pagan Mesopotamia, it spread into Persia and the rest, and was later adopted by monotheist Jews, Christians, and dualist Zoroastrians. (Zoroastrians came to believe hair to be impure, and they still cover their hair when praying.) A lot of what is now considered part of Islamic law and traditions had its origins in Bronze Age Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Hittite law codes from four thousand to two thousand years before Islam; like laws of mehr, rights of slaves, property for women, inheritance laws, death for blasphemy, prohibition of magic, etc. We only began to translate these languages during the 19th century, though thousands of Mesopotamian tablets still haven’t been translated. But these law codes have been translated, and are available in books and online for anyone to read.

Pre-Islamic Pakistan

1

A brief narrative about the pre-Islamic history of the regions that now constitute Pakistan. Since other than the presence of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, most Pakistanis know very little about this history, I thought it necessary to include narratives of all major civilizations and cultures who either settled into this religion or ruled over it as hegemonic foreigners. Therefore, this could only be the first post of a series, pausing at the rule of the Achaemenid Persians over a land that they named Hind. (My original intention was for a much briefer post, but then I couldn’t leave out details, interesting tidbits, that I felt are integral to the story of the region.):
1 – Riwat (1.9 million years ago): The earliest hand-made stone tools to have been found in South Asia were found in Rawat, a town close to modern Rawalpindi, in 1983. These tools were found not with fossils of humans, but with the fossils of another hominid species, the Homo erectus.
2 – Saonian Culture (500,000-150,000 BP): This Lower Paleolithic culture of the Homo erectus continued for almost 2 million years, and it gradually spread over a vast region from Northern Afghanistan to Nepal.
3 – Adivasis (75,000-50,000 BP): The earliest migrations of modern humans into South Asia. These are considered to be the ancestors of modern forest dwellers in India, and speakers of most of India’s 1600 languages. They gradually moved further eastwards into Southeast Asia, and around 40,000 years ago, reached Australia. An analysis of Y chromosome haplogroups actually found one man in a village West of Madurai to be a direct descendant of these migrators.
4 – Mehrgarh, Western Balochistan (7000-2000 BCE): Earliest human settlements in South Asia. For about 4000 years, these folks in Western Balochistan were the only ones in South Asia to engage in farming, cattle herding, pottery-making, and metallurgy. Presence of a large number of female figurines with large breasts suggests that they worshiped a mother/fertility goddess, (which is consistent with the religious culture of the time from Çatalhöyük (in modern Turkey) to Polynesia). They traded with their neighbors Elams in Eastern Iran and whoever mined lapis lazuli in Badakhshan in modern Tajikistan. Several stone axes have also been found in their settlements. They also practiced dentistry. In 2006, the scientific journal Nature announced that the oldest evidence for the drilling of human teeth in vivo (i.e. in a living person) have been found in Mehrgarh.
5 – Harappan/Indus Valley Civilization (2700-1300 BCE): They were the first ones in South Asia to use writing (probably borrowed from Mesopotamia), though we still haven’t deciphered their script. They manufactured bricks to the ratio of 4:2:1, used rulers divided into ten precise parts, and invented a mathematical system based on decimals. They seem to have been perfectly egalitarian: no signs of temples, palaces, weapons, or social hierarchy in their towns. Though judging from their astonishingly well-planned cities, we assume that there must have been some form of government. They were obsessed with cleaning, had large public baths, running water, bathrooms with flush toilets, and an underground drainage system (earliest and only such system in the world until the Roman times 1500 years later). They seem to have continued with the worship of mother/fertility goddess. And they created some astonishing art (these two strange avant-garde pieces are my favorites: https://www.harappa.com/content/lady-spi… http://www.nationalmuseumindia.gov.in/pr…). Harappan towns have been excavated from Sindh to Gujarat in the East and Afghanistan in the Northwest. They were expert seafarers, and their trading network extended as far as Southern Turkmenistan and the coasts of Yemen. (Signs of possible settlement even in Australia.) We’re still not sure how and why this civilization ended; the two obvious culprits seem to be climate change and/or Indo-Aryans. As of now, the scholarly consensus is that they moved further East and are the ancestors of Dravidian civilizations of Southern India.
6 – Indo-Aryans (1500 BCE): The famous nomadic ancestors of most contemporary civilizations from Europe to Iran to India. They’re believed to have gradually migrated East from the Pontic-Caspian region to Central Asian steppes around 3000 BCE, and then into Northern Iran around 2000 BCE. Then they split into two groups: one of which moved East through the Western Himalayan mountains into Northern India (modern Pakistan) around 1500 BCE, and the other one South into Iran around 800 BCE. These are the authors of ancient Hindu Vedas, which are brilliant speculative treatises on the nature of god (and which makes Hinduism the oldest extant religion in the world). Rigvedas (1500 BCE), earliest of the 4 collections of Vedas, mention Sapta Sindhu (Sapta in Vedic Sanskrit means seven, and Sindhu means rivers), i.e. a land of 7 rivers, presumably Punjab (earliest mention of the word Sindhu, which in Avestan, i.e. ancient Persian, is pronounced Hapta Hindu, and later Persian scribes under Darius recorded the name of the land as Hind and its inhabitants Hindu). Though Hinduism, as it’s practiced now, developed during the next 1000 years with the gradual synthesis of Vedic and the native belief systems of Adivasis and Harappans/Dravidians. It is still argued if Indo-Aryan movements into India were acts of gradual migration or conquests. No signs of conquests have been found, though, curiously, the Harappan settlements did end around the same time these people came onto the scene, and moreover, their Vedas glorify weapons and warriors to an absurdly high degree, along with their warrior god Indra (Indra with his mace and lightening rods was an earlier prototype of Zeus), horses, chariots (they were the first ones to domesticate and ride horses, and invented horse-drawn chariots around 2000 BCE), and a curious intoxicating beverage called Soma (Avestan: Homa). In order to maintain their hegemony over the region, they rearranged the previously tripartite Indo-Aryan caste system to include a fourth lowest one for the indigenous population of India: Shudras. All of the major languages spoken in modern Pakistan and Northern India belong to the Indo-Aryan families of languages.
4 – Achaemenid Persians (550-330 BCE): Persians were Indo-Aryans who had moved into Central and Southern Iran around 8th century BCE. Up till then Elams had been the natives of the region, the native language of the region was Elamite, and along with Sumerians and Egyptians, Elams were the first ones to develop a writing system. Elams had a pantheon of gods headed by Kiririsha, which in Elamite means “the great goddess.” Susa and Anshan were the two major cities of the region. And both cities had been ruled by the native Elams since at least 2700 BCE (with periodic conquests by Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians). Persians introduced Zoroastrianism into the region. They somehow managed to take over the city of Anshan from the Elams in the 7th century BCE. Kūrosh (Cyrus) the Great became the Achaemenid king in 559 BCE, and moved onto create the grandest empire the world had yet seen. According to Herodotus, Cyrus first overthrew the Median kingdom (though no evidence of a Median empire has yet been found through archeology), then moved on to conquer the Lydian kingdom in Anatolia (modern Turkey) from the richest man in the world Croesus (possible source of Qarun in Qur’an and the fables of Qarun’s treasure: Qarun ka khazana). Also, Lydians had recently invented this thing called coins. Then Cyrus took over Susa from the Elams, followed by the grandest city in the world, Babylon. After conquering Babylon, Cyrus anointed himself “the ruler of the 4 corners of the world,” and famously liberated Jews to move back from Babylon to Levant. Cyrus died fighting Sakas (Scythians) in Central Asia, and at least according to Herodotus, their warrior empress Tomyris made a drinking vessel out of Cyrus’ head. Cyrus’ son, the mad king Kambūjiya (Cambyses II), conquered Egypt. It was Cambyses II’s successor and nephew, Darius, who conquered the modern regions of Afghanistan, Punjab, and Sindh. Darius then appointed a Greek geographer, Scylax of Caryanda, to explore the coastline of his vast Persian empire: from the mouth of the Indus to Suez in Egypt.

On Mot

0

The word for death in modern Urdu/Hindi and Arabic is maut, in Hebrew it’s mavet, in Sanskrit mirtiu, in Latin mortem, and in Persian it’s faut. And the god for death in ancient Levant and Mesopotamia was called Mot. According to myths from ancient Ugarit (ancient Syria) and Canaan (ancient Levant), Mot and Baal were both sons of the high god El. They got into a fight, and Baal, who was the god of light and fertility, defeated and killed Mot, who was the god of darkness and death. But El managed to resurrect Mot, and since then both Mot and Baal have been involved in an eternal struggle for supremacy. (Sounds remarkably similar to Zoroastrianism.) Also in Hebrew Bible/Tanakh, in both the Book of Hosea and the Book of Jeremiah, Maweth/Mot is mentioned as a deity (or an angel of death) to whom the Hebrew god YHWH can turn over the kingdom of Judah as punishment for worshiping other gods. Nobody knows the linguistic origins of Mot, but variants of this word (ancient Syriac: mauta, ancient Akkadian: mutu, ancient Aramaic, Berber, and Coptic: mwt) have been used for death for at least the last 6000 years in an expanse of area that stretches from Central Africa to Europe to India -a rare word that is shared among Semitic, Indo-European, Dravidian, and African families of languages.

On Torah

0

Finally finished reading Torah -the first five books of the Old Testament/Tanakh; the only books attributed to Prophet Mosheh/Moses/Musa (a claim that is contradicted by Torah itself; the usual scholarly consensus is that Torah is a collection of fragmentary oral and written narratives that were compiled and edited/redacted by 4 separate groups of authors: Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly, and Deuteronomist (not their names but their modern designations), between 950 B.C.E. and 500 B.C.E.; earliest oral narratives were of even earlier provenance, and the last redaction was attempted around 500 B.C.E. during, and soon after, the Babylonian exile). Some thoughts:

1. What I found most surprising was that there is absolutely no Satan/devil, nor any conception of heaven or hell, in Torah. Instead, there is Sheol -a subterranean underworld where the souls of the dead live a shadowy existence; a concept that corresponds to the depiction of afterlife in both ancient Greek and Mesopotamian myths. Eve is not tempted to eat the apple of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” by Satan, who doesn’t exist in Torah, but instead by a snake acting on its own behest. There is no mention of sin in the story, nor any casting of Eve and Adam from the heavens to the earth; instead it is an etiological story attempting to explain how humans gained wisdom -the knowledge of good and evil. And heavens in Torah is merely an abode of gods -again a concept that fits with most ancient myths.

2. Not monotheism, but monolatry: Again and again, authors of Torah emphasize that their God (called YHWH/Elohim/El Shaddai/Elyon among other names) is the God of the Hebrews, and that He is a god among many gods. He is indeed the mightiest, the most powerful -as was customary in the ancient world to claim that the god representing your city/ethnic community is the most powerful; but He is definitely only the god of the Hebrews. How could a God for all mankind, a just God, decimate the entire land of Egypt “with festering boils on every human and animal,” annihilate all the Canaanites, including women and children, for the sake of a select few?

3. The names given to patriarchs/prophets in Torah are literary conceits/wordplays -a reflection of the person’s role in the story. Thus, Abram means the “the exalted ancestor” and Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) means “ancestor of the multitudes;” Isaac (Prophet Ishaq) means “he laughs” since his parents laughed when he was predicted; Ishmael (Prophet Ismail) means “he hears” since God later hears his mother Hagar/Hajra’s lamentations; Jacob (Prophet Yaqub) means “he supplants” since he later supplants, through trickery, the inheritance of his twin brother Esau; Joseph (Prophet Yusef) means “he is taken away” since he gets taken away to Egypt; Prophet Mosheh/Moses/Musa means “he who draws out” since he later draws his people out through the sea. Ditto for place names and names of tribes. Tribes are retroactively connected to names and origin stories in order to proclaim the supremacy of the tribes of Israel, and ultimately, the tribe of Judah. So, Esau, whose name means “hairy,” and is shown as a buffoon who’s fond of hunting, is said to be the ancestor of Edoms -a tribe that rebelled against Judah. Arabs are descendants of Abraham’s second concubine, Keturah. The Moabs and Ammons, two of Israel’s closest neighbors and fiercest enemies, are borne out of an incestuous relationship between Lot (Prophet Loot) and his two daughters.

4. With every succeeding commandment and exploit of the God of Old Testament, I couldn’t help but think of Donald Trump. Hear me out: The Lord of Old Testament commands that every sacrifice to Him must be of an absolutely unblemished animal who must be male and exactly one year old; He commands that His temple must be built with the most precious stones and almost all furnishings inside the inner sanctum must be made of pure gold; He causes “festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt,” after He himself claims, repeatedly, that it is He who “hardens the heart of Pharaoh” because He desires to show-off His miracles and His glory to the Egyptians; He first brings the Israels to a land with no water or food, then punishes them for the audacity to ask for water and food; He massacres 3000 Jews for building a harmless golden calf, then 14,700 for questioning Moses, then 24,000 (impaling all the chiefs) for marrying Moabite women and bowing to their gods, and then makes sure that all of the 2 million+ Israels (a highly questionable number, if not the event of Exodus itself) who He had led out of Egypt with promises of a wonderland “flowing with milk and honey,” would wander in the wilderness for 40 years and die before seeing the promised land (the land that is not empty but inhabited by thousands of poor Canaanites who’re about to be slaughtered); punishment for abandoning Him (He keeps repeating that “He is indeed a jealous God”) or blasphemy or even working on the day of Sabbath is death; He kills two sons of Aaron (Prophet Haroon) for offering incense to Him but before His authorization, and then commands Aaron not to mourn them. If this is not fascism, then I don’t know what is.

5. Many patriarchs who are thought to be prophets in Islamic tradition (Loot, Ishaq, Ismael, Yaqub, Haroon) are merely patriarchs/ancestors in Torah. Yet, it speaks of a female prophet: Prophet Miriam, the sister of Aaron, who, after Moses had led Israels out of the Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds) “took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourine and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them” of the glory of Lord. (If only they knew what was in store for them!)

6. Moses at the mountain: It’s intriguing to me how one narrative gets accentuated in subsequent traditions from a book of competing narratives. So, Quran, in Surah al-A’raf verse 143, narrates that when God appeared to Moses on the mountain Toor, “the mountain crumbled down and Moses fell unconscious.” In Torah, in Exodus 33:21-23, that story appears with a slightly different version of events: The God says to Moses, “there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” But earlier, Exodus 33:11 narrates: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” In fact, the whole conception of God in Torah is entirely different from the Islamic tradition. In Torah, God physically appears to Abraham along with two angels; God fights a hand-to-hand combat with the patriarch Isaac, and then anoints him, Israel (which means “the one who wrestles with God”); God asks Moses to bring 70 elders of Israel to visit Him at the top of the mountain Sinai; God actually physically resides, as a pillar of cloud, with the Israels in the tent dedicated to Him, and physically leads Israels in their wars against other nations; and the covenant that He establishes with Israels is precisely that He will continue to physically reside with the Israels as long as they continue to abide by His decrees and commandments. (This is analogous to ancient Mesopotamian religions where a god physically resided inside the temple dedicated to him and led his nation in wars against other nations. It was dreaded that if the god of the town/temple was not kept happy through daily sacrifices, or if his commandments were not diligently observed, he’d abandon them.)

7. To anyone interested in reading, I’d highly recommend The New Oxford Annotated Bible. It is translated using the oldest extant manuscripts of Torah, and in accordance with the subtleties of Hebrew that was used in the first millennium B.C.E. It points out the contradictions, passages attributed to each of the four possible groups of authors/editors, and the narratives that corresponds to the myths, laws, and events narrated in ancient Canaanite, Egyptian, Hittite, Ugaritic, and Mesopotamian steles, law codes, tablets, and manuscripts. All of this is extremely important since up till the 20th century the world was hardly aware of these ancient civilizations, nor had any of these ancient languages been translated. The world’s only source for any pre-Greek history was the Torah/Bible. Now that these ancient texts are being discovered and deciphered, the world’s perception of events and narratives that surround Torah/Bible has substantially changed. So, for example, close to the end of Torah, Deuteronomy 28:15 to 28:68, is a long list of curses that God promises to cast upon Israels if they would not “diligently observe all His commandments and decrees.” Bear in mind that this means that every single member of the nation of Israels must obey almost a 100 pages of these decrees, and if a single one of them slips in any one commandment, then unless he/she is accordingly punished or exiled, the entire nation will suffer. These curses include, 28:30, “you shall become engaged to a woman, but another man shall lie with her,” 28:53, “you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your own sons and daughters,” 28:61, “every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will inflict on you until you are destroyed,” 28:63, “so the Lord will take delight in bringing you to ruin and destruction,” and finally, 28:64, “The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.” Up till the 20th century, most followers of Abrahamic religions believed that the Jews suffered their two major exiles, the Babylonian exile in the 6th century B.C.E and the Roman exile in 70 C.E, because they didn’t remain faithful to the Lord’s commandments. But now that we have several law codes from the ancient world, from the Hittites to the Sumerians, we know that it was customary to include a long list of curses, as a prior warning, at the end of every law code and treaty. In fact, the curses outlined in Deuteronomy, including 28:30 and the threat of deportation at 28:64, parallels the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon, a Neo-Assyrian treaty from 672 B.C.E. We know that the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, including at least 10 other kingdoms, were vassals of Assyria. Moreover, we now know that it was customary for most ancient armies, especially the Assyrians and Babylonians, and to some extent, Romans, to deport their subject populations after defeating them. The tragedy of the Israels was that they were sandwiched inside a narrow strip of Levant (the promised land) between the two far wealthier regions of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

8. I remembered listening to this ages ago, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JV2siRpW… I found references to wine at so many places in Torah that I had to look this video up. And as expected, either Dr. Naik has never read the Bible, and just selectively searched and found these two verses, or he is deliberately misleading his audience. There are dozens of places in Bible where God not only expects His audience to enjoy wine during festivals, but also to include wine in their sacrifices to Him. As He proclaims, the smell of wine “is a pleasing odor to the Lord” (Numbers 15:10). It seems that he is misleading because he not only quotes these verses out of their contexts but cuts them down to the few words that he needs. Proverbs are not commandments by God, but a collection of oral “proverbs.” 20:1 is a warning against excessive drinking; its correct translation is, “wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Similarly, 23:20 states, “Do not be among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat,” this doesn’t mean that meat is prohibited; or 19:13, “and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain;” or 23:13, “Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die.” Similarly, Ephesians 5:18 is from a list of instructions written by Saint Paul to a congregation of churchgoers about how to comport themselves inside a church. It doesn’t prohibit them from drinking wine inside a church, but from drinking immoderately so as to not get drunk during a congregation. The whole verse is, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves.”

On Fred M. Donner’s excellent (and highly recommended) Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam

0

The main thesis of Donner’s book is that the early Islamic movement was an ecumenical (a universal) movement that included all monotheists. As evidence, he cites the extant documents (though admittedly few) from the early Islamic era (610 to 690 AD) in where early Muslims mostly use the word al-mu’mineen (the believers) to address themselves, and even when the word muslimeen is used, it is used in the context of its true meaning, i.e. the ones who submit to one God. He cites the early coins issued by Muslims, all of which contain only the first half of the modern Muslim shahadah and do not mention the prophet Muhammad (these coins even contained images, and later the image of an Arab standing with a sword about which scholars dispute if it is the image of prophet Muhammad or the caliph). The word khalifa (caliph) was never used by early leaders of the movement, instead the only word used was amir al-mu’mineen (commander of the believers). Secondly, even all the works written by non-Muslims addressing these nomadic conquerors cite that these people use the words al-mu’mineen or al-muhajiroon (the migrants) to address themselves. Then there is proof that early Muslim armies included Christian and Jewish tribes, mostly Monophysite and Nestorian Christian tribes, in their ranks. He also concludes that, despite the reports (mostly Christian) of looting and destruction by Muslim armies, there may have been looting and pillage and seizing of slaves (more than 4000 slaves worked at caliph Muawia’s properties at Yamama) but there is no archeological proof of major destruction of properties (except in Tripoli in modern Lebanon, which, after a prolonged siege, was completely evacuated of its Christians by Muslims and repopulated with Jews), instead there were churches built at many sites after the occupation of Muslims. It was late only during the period of Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685-705) that coins were issued with the second part of shahadah along with the name of prophet Muhammad (which also shows their nonchalant attitude towards the name of God and prophet and Qur’anic ayahs). It was, Donner believes, an effort by the now victor Muslims to separate themselves from the defeated and vanquished population of Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians (though many of them kept working as high ranking officers in Muslim bureaucracies). Lastly, some thoughts on Muslim civil wars (during the second of which Makkah and Medina were sieged twice by Muslim armies and Kaabah was burned to the ground): It was ibn Taymiyyah who in the fourteenth century conferred the title of khalifa-e-rashidun (the rightly guided caliphs) on the first four caliphs, but I wonder if the Muslims alive during the era of the first four caliphs would have agreed. It is strange that for an empire that had conquered half of the known world, nobody came to the rescue of caliph Usman, in fact many Muslims left Medina for Makkah as his house was seized. It shows that he was indeed deeply unpopular because of his policy of awarding important governorships to family members. Even Ali, by the end of his life, had no help from any of the major Muslim sections of army. Hijaz, Syria, Egypt, and most of Iraq had already aligned against him. Perhaps there was a reason he had been repeatedly ignored by the Muslim shuras for the title of the amir al-mu’mineen. Also, the practice of cursing the opposing caliph during Friday sermons was actually started by Ali, and then continued by Umayyad caliphs who issued decrees to curse the caliphs Usman and Ali.

PS: Caliph Mu’awiah in one of his letters to the Arab governors of Persia: “Be watchful of Persian Muslims and never treat them as equals. … As far as possible, give them smaller pensions and lowly jobs. In the presence of an Arab, a non-Arab shall not lead prayers, nor are they to be allowed to stand in the first row of the prayer.”

On Zoroastrianism and Islam

0

Zoroastrianism might possibly be the most influential religion in human history. Historians date its beginning to about 1500 BC. It was the first religion in human history to suggest monotheism, belief in one God; that is about 800 years before monotheism took hold among Jews. (As any scholar of Torah will tell you, significant portions of it, including the story of Noah, were borrowed during Jewish exile in Babylon.) Here is a list of beliefs, tenets, practices, symbols that may have been borrowed by Islam, and other Abrahamic religions, from Zoroastrianism:

1. Mira’aj: Zarathusthra was the first prophet in history to narrate a tale of his journey to heavens to meet the God Ahuramazda and receive, according to him, the right religion.
2. It was the first religion to suggest the existence of a devil, Ahiraman.
3. It was the first to posit light as an element of divine.
4. It was the first to posit linear time, of one earthly life; before it all religions took time as a circular entity with possibilities of multiple lives.
5. It was the first to suggest the existence of heaven and hell.
6. The existence of a narrow, almost pin shaped, bridge between the earth and the skies. This bridge needs to be crossed by all humans, and bad ones among us fall off it towards and into hell. This was later borrowed by Islam by the name of pul-e-sirat in Arabic.
7. Nimaz: The division of 24 hours in 5 stages of prayers.
8. Wudhoo: Each prayer must be preceded by an ablution.
9. Ramadhan: Manichees fasted from sunrise to sunset for 30 days before their annual festival.
10. Headcap: They consider hair impure, and were the first to use headcaps for prayers. (They even invented sleeves and trousers for the same reason.)
11. Girban: The existence of a book suspended by the middle of every human’s collar. This book is supposed to contain a list of all our deeds, and is also mentioned in the Qur’an.
12. The belief in a final messiah who will come before the end times to bring the just and righteous kingdom of God to this planet called earth.
13. Finally, it was the first religion to have a series of religious texts in the shape of a book (that was orally transmitted in the ancient Avestan language up till the 4th century AD).

Democracy and Aeschylus’ Oresteia

0

 

Aeschylus’ Oresteia should be taught in every school at the secondary level. There is a great deal of ignorance about how a democracy works, and this Greek play written almost 2600 years ago explains democracy better than anything else I’ve read.

It is a play in three parts about Agamemnon, the leader of Greek army that sailed to the city of Troy, and his family. Agamemnon had to sacrifice his daughter in bargain for favorable winds from the Greek gods. Ten years later, when he came back as the conqueror of Troy, his wife, still mourning for her daughter, murdered him. In the second part of the play, their son Orestes avenges his father by killing his mother. For me, the most compelling part of the play is the third and final part in which Aeschylus alters these traditional Greek plays on revenge by placing Orestes in front of a contemporary Athenian court. Through this ploy, Aeschylus doesn’t only examine and question the matricide committed by Orestes but the whole ancient system of justice, of eye for an eye. And suddenly, we see a whole society transforming in front of our eyes. Now, it is not only the gods who play the part of judge and executors but eleven ordinary Athenians are joined with the gods as jurors. Now, we hear arguments on both sides, we see a kind of empathy developing, we hear litigation, diplomacy, and in the end, a compromise -the essence of democracy. Orestes is to be set free, and the Furies, the gods who demanded his execution, are to be given a temple in Athens. Each time I read this play, I feel more in awe of how Aeschylus achieves this great transformation.

I love these Greek plays for not only their literary quality, their exquisite retellings of ancient myths, but the whole interplay between the authors of these plays and their audience. My second favorite Greek tragedy has to be The Trojan Women by Euripides. It is a play about the women of Troy lamenting the massacre of their families and their city. The play was performed in the year 415 BC, that same year an Athenian fleet had slaughtered all men in the island of Melos and enslaved all its women and children. And later that year, Athenians were about to embark in an expedition toward Sicily which ended disastrously for Athens. Euripides, through this play, shows the futility of such wars, of greed for foreign land and strategic resources. He shows us how such wars don’t only result in useless massacres of mostly innocent civilians but also in the moral depredation of its perpetrators: though the Greeks won that ancient war against Troy, none of the leaders of the Greek army returned to a salutary life.

I’m always amazed at how these Greek authors, again and again, relentlessly, criticize in their plays not only their own city of Athens, a city which they otherwise praised to the heavens for its democratic tradition, but also their own Athenian leaders who were almost always among the audience, seated at the very front, and who usually also paid for the production. How in Oresteia, and The Trojan Women, and The Persians, and Antigone, these authors are actually teaching their audience to empathize with the enemy.

The Greek democracy soon died, and with it, at least for a very long time, its tradition of public self-criticism; but yet, these were the very few plays that were kept for posterity and were treasured generation after generation. I feel, it is our duty to maintain this very first of all literary traditions, of self-criticism, of courage against the often very loud calls for wars, of questioning the norms in our society, and of empathizing with the loser and the conquered, in our own literary works.

Wisdom from an ancient Zoroastrian book called Dinkard – Acts of Religion

0

 

Your religion is defined by your habits; religion is that which one does habitually. Five good habits: generosity, truth, virtue, eloquence, learning. Ahuramazda [God] is a friend, be a friend to everyone, your character is defined by how you take care of others. One should use wealth to help others and not be arrogant about it. The humblest and the best food is what you just ate. Ahriman [the devil] lives within you; and the fiercest demon is anger.

On rights for women in ancient civilizations

0

 

Meher, the Islamic word for betrothal money promised by a groom to his wife (or her family), has precedent in Torah, where in Hebrew, the word used is Mohar. The practice goes all the way back to both ancient Hittite and Mesopotamian civilizations where law codes specifically state that a groom or his family is obligated to pay an amount that they had mutually agreed upon to the bride or her family. In ancient Aramiac, the word used is Muhra. Moreover, though in Torah, divorce is only mentioned in the context of a husband divorcing his wife, we have court documents from the ancient Jewish community in Elephantine, Egypt (from 500 BC) that shows that laws in practice were very different. That though a divorce was looked down upon, a woman in ancient Egypt could divorce her husband and that both had equal rights to divorce and property. Women could own property in ancient Persia, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and yes, ancient Arabia. Here is one example from ancient Egypt: “Tomorrow, or another day if Ananiah stands up in an assembly and declares, ‘I hate my wife Yehoyishma; she shall not be my wife,’ silver of hatred is upon his head. He shall give her everything she brought into his house, her cash and her clothes, eight shekels and five hallur of silver, and the rest of her property, and she may go where she pleases. And if Yehoyishma declares, “I hate you, my husband; I will not be your wife,” silver of hatred is upon her head. She shall give her husband seven shekels, and go out from him with the rest of her cash, goods, and chattels, worth … And he shall give her the rest of her property.” (This shows how ignorant those priests or imams are who believe that only their religion brought rights to women. This is because they don’t bother to study anything besides their own few books.)

My favorite anecdote of all time

0

 

In 1531, a Palestinian peasant responded thus to an Ottoman caliph’s tax collector: “When your caliph defeats 7 firangi kings, then, and only then, come to us. Until then this order (tax farmaan) to us is like wind from a donkey’s ass.” This was noted in Ottoman tax records, and prompted a fatwa by the sheikh-ul-Islam of the time. In 1975, Monty Python recorded this conversation in their movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which makes them the greatest, and the most learned, comedians in history).

All religions are conduits to God

0

 

I always cringe when I get to watch folks like Zakir Naik and others disparaging other religions and taking arrogant pride in debating that somehow their religion is superior over all others, that it is the only truth. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (greatest living scholar of not only Islam but Religion and a sufi) says something I really like, “No one religion can ever be the only truth because God’s mercy and justice can never allow majority of His creation to follow a path that does not lead to Him. All religions are conduits to God and each religion is complete unto itself. All beings are manifestations of aspects of God.” It makes sense to me because if you consider just the current percentage of Muslims in the world, it is 23% and if you reckon all of humanity since the 7th century then it would be much less. Can a merciful God allow more than three quarters of His creation to burn in hell? I don’t think so. Also, Muslim means someone who completely submits to God, so whoever completely submits to God is a Muslim. “God has written the mark of beauty upon all things.” – Prophet’s hadith. Our world would be a much better place if we all live by this belief.

Few more snippets and quotes from Nasr’s lectures and books: “The face of God shines everywhere. In the heart of all religions and philosophies is this abiding truth.” “Those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know.” – from Dao (i.e. all that we say about God is nothing compared to what we do not say about God). “To know God is to enable God within to know God.” “The word Tauheed does not only mean One but also the integration of everything into One.” “Evil is separation from the good.” – from Dante’s Divine Comedy. “We all return to God then why not walk this journey with a smile on our face.” – from Rumi’s Mathnavi. “It is us that are veiled, not God. God is a passive lake and we are snowflakes falling upon it.”

Finally, a short poem from Hafiz (1326-1390), who, as his name suggests, was a hafiz of Quran,

I am in love with every church
And mosque
And temple
And any kind of shrine
Because I know it is there
That people say the different names
of the divine.

And Amir Khusraw (1253-1325),

I am an infidel of love; I don’t have any need of being a Muslim.
My every vein is a thread; I do not need the thread of a [Hindu] Brahmin.

Nasir ud-din Tusi’s (1201-1274),

“The need for Justice … arises from the absence of love, for if love were to accrue among individuals, there would be no necessity for equity and impartiality … In this regard, the virtue of Love over Justice is obvious.”

Amir Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (1254-1338) poet, sufi, and compiler of one of the most famous books of Islam in South Asia, the Fava’id-ul-Fuvad, in his divan,

The work of the lover is the work of the heart:
Those meanings are beyond Belief [din] and Unbelief [kufr].

Khwaja Ghulam Fareed’s (1845-1902), who was himself a scholar of Quran and shariah,

Oh! Real-True Beauty, Beginning-Less Light!
Shall I call you Mosque, or Temple, or Convent?
Shall I call you Pothi, or shall I call you Quran?
Shall I call you Rosary (tasbeeh)? Shall I call you Caste-String (worn by Brahmans)?
Shall I call you Dasrat, Bichman, or Ram?
Shall I call you Sita, my Darling One?
Shall I call you Maha Dev? Shall I call you Bhagwan?
Shall I call you Gita, Granth or Veda?
Shall I call you Beloved of Every Heart?
Shall I call you Houri. Fairy-lass, or Handsome Lad?
Shall I call you Blush? Shall I call you Kohl? Shall I call you pan?
Shall I call you Beauty? Embellishment and Adornment?
Shall I call you Tablah or Tambour?
Shall I call you Dholak? Shall I call you Metre or Note-Beat?
Shall I call you Love? Shall I call you Science?
Shall I call you Without Color? Shall I call you Without Any Likeness?
Shall I call you Without Form? Shall I call you Ever-Every Moment?

On Manichaeism

0

 

On 14th April, 216 AD a boy was born in Babylon who at the age of 23 came to call himself the last prophet among a long line of prophets which included Adam, Noah, Jesus, Buddha, and Zarathustra. His name was Mani. He traveled from Syria to India, (even met and managed to convert the king of Makran, now Baluchistan), wrote books unfolding his cosmology which really is more complex than the plot of Game of Thrones. Between 3rd and 8th centuries, miraculously, his religion Manichaeism, became widely popular in a large swath of area -from Spain and North Africa to Southern coasts of China. Its spread over the Eurasian landmass only rivals that of Islam and Christianity and its success was in fact more remarkable in that it was achieved without military conquest. Here are the commandments of Manichaeism: the honor of Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving; the honor of the commandment that we kill not, that we eat no flesh, that we make ourselves pure; and the honor of the commandment of blessed poverty, humility, and kindliness. It also prohibits blasphemous speech, eating of meat, and drinking of alcohol. Another interesting fact: their annual festival was preceded by a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.

The End of Revolution

0

 

Hey love!
Wake up!

The night is dead.
The flowers you perched
At the warm youth of love
Have withered in disgust.
Their putrid scent of might
Has shunned its pungent delight.

We’ve suffered an ordinary lust.

Wake up!
Hey love!

The sun is upon us,
Lingering at our window
Of ignorant bliss;
Daring to stare with sardonic slight:
“Ah! Two naked bodies cloaked with plight.”

Exiled

0

 

For we were the brave few

willing not only our souls,

but pouring our glistening bodies

over the trifle abstraction of dreams.

 

Surrender

0

 

How foolishly limpid,

flippantly intrepid was youth,

and how phlegmatic,

was a heart’s surrender.

The Lovers

0

Embrace

We breathed through the same pores,

you and I.

I was the blinding sunlight in your hands,

and you were my dark vessel for distant promises.

You were my sweet-face chaos,

and love,

love was holding someone,

and knowing you held the world.

 

Log in