The second song on my mini-album is called “isa and the dead dog,” and can be listened to at this link:

https://oakwool.bandcamp.com/track/isa-and-the-dead-dog

(Also, the links also include a transcript of the lyrics of the song, so you can follow along with my language as you listen to the music).

In week 3 of the course, specifically on February 8, we discussed the role of Prophets in the Islamic tradition. We learned about how Muhammad is himself one of many Prophets (though, according to some Muslims, he is the last one). Many of the venerated Prophets in Islam are spiritual heroes shared with pre-Islamic tradition: Jewish figures such as Ibrahim (Abraham) or Yusuf (Joseph) or Musa (Moses), or Christian figures like Yahya (John the Baptist) or, most importantly for this post, Isa (Jesus). Prophetic stories have been prevalent in Islam since the inception of the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an highlights the presence of prophets in numerous religious traditions (see Suras 3:8, 10:47, 35:24, 4:164, 10:94, and also the miraculous Qur’anic retelling of the story of Joseph found in Sura 12 for examples). As the tradition has developed, prophetic stories have become their own genre, and are wonderful pedagogical tools for demonstrating the ways in which the Prophets are imitable paragons of virtue and righteousness.

In week 3, my favorite example of a prophetic story that we learned was the story of Isa and the Dead Dog. As a devout Christian, it was great fun to see Jesus manifest in a refreshing way in another tradition! Professor Asani began his account by showing us this picture:

He told us the story: Isa was walking with his disciples when they came upon the corpse of a dog. The disciples ranted about how ugly and smelly the dead dog was, but Isa knelt down beside the dog and, ever seeing the divine beauty in all things, proclaimed that the dog had beautiful white teeth. What a lovely little parable!

For the second song of my mini-album, I attempted to retell (and also expand) the story of Isa and the Dead Dog. As it is a rather bizarre story, I tried my best to make the song a bit odd. The drum beat has a slight swing to it, and the piece features some synthesizer work that I think adds both beauty and idiosyncrasy (the story itself is both beautiful and idiosyncratic). The lyrics themselves add to the bizarre quality of the piece–I’m singing about Jesus and I’m singing about dog corpses, hardly a classic combo–but I think they’re a lot of fun! The first verse and chorus simply retell the story from the perspective of Isa’s disciples: they see a dead dog, and are astounded by Jesus’ ability to see beauty in the dead dog.

Then, I try to expand the parable and get at some possible ramifications for us, as people. What does it teach us about how God looks at humanity? What does it teach us about how each of us should view the world? With the second verse and last two choruses, I begin by asking the question, “Am I a dead dog?” (A metaphor, obviously). If I am a dead dog, then perhaps the Prophet Isa would still see the beauty in me, despite how very far I have fallen, despite how ugly the rest of the world thinks I am. Perhaps God feels the same way. Isa is a Prophetic paragon of virtue in this story because he imitates the Divine by seeing the inherent beauty and goodness of all created things, and as with all Prophets in the Muslim tradition, we would do well to learn from him.

 

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