Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cont. Reading of Qur'an Section 18 & 19

So I lied, I didn’t post the next day. It is hard to make yourself post every day. Anyways, I want to continue with my reading of the Qur’an. In this post I am going to explore Section 18 & 19.

I am noticing in these initial sections is that they seem to be attempting to smooth and reconilethe disparities, between Judaic and Christian traditions and Islam. Chapter 148 explains that all people as individuals have a certain goal, and that as societies we also have these goals. After this, it restates the message of the Qiblah.

After this the Qur’an states that the Apostle had been sent to led the people. One interesting thing of note is the fact that this is apostle is sent by the royal “We”. This plural form is also found in the Judaic texts, as well. Reconciling monotheism, within this language seems peculiar.

Section 19 has a lot more in it. Chapter 154 explains that those believers, who die for the tradition, are not really dead, “though ye perceive (it) not”.

Chapter 155 declares that the royal “We” shall being testing people, through the various things which bring trouble into our life, like hunger, loss, toil. The advice in dealing with these things is to “patiently preserve”. There seems to be some sort of relief laid out in chapter 157. There it is acknowledged that some will receive blessings, mercy, and guidance from God. One can assume that this person will be searching the Qur’an.

I thought chapter 158 was interesting. It goes:

Behold! Safa and Marwa

Are among the Symbols

of God. So if those who visit

the House in the Season

or at other times,

should compass them round,

it is no sin in them.

A foot note explains that Ishmael’s mother Hajar, praying for water, wandered around the two hills, and to her surprise, she discovered some water. This was somewhat of a confusing issue for Muslims, as the hills were the place of worship of some local Arab pagans. The footnote explains that much like the Ka’ba “the most sacred things may be turned to the basest uses”. I see this as another example of the attempt to reconcile question followers of Islam may have, about how their beliefs fit within a bigger picture.

Chapter 159 explains that things of been made clear to the People of the Book, and that their disbelief has brought a curse on them.

Chapter 160 explains the only answer is for those people to repent and turn towards the Truth.

Section twenty ends in this way…

Sunday, May 23, 2010

New post concerning current readings, thoughts, and events AND one dose of the Koran every day

So I haven't blogged for about a month now. I wanted to write regularly here, but then school arrive and I didn't have the time. Even while I am in school I still liked to read a lot on my own. So between school reading, extra-curricular reading, and then “real” life I just couldn’t find the time. I am now done with school, for the immediate foreseeable future, so I will have much more time and this is what brings me back here.

I basically just want to blog my opinions, mainly focused on what I am reading and current events. I also want a place where I can link videos and websites and find other like blogs, with similar interest. I just want to regularly journal, and this is a good way to get it out.

Now that I am out of school, I am focused on three projects I would like to complete. One is inspired by a reference by Russell of “The Atheist Experience”, who mentioned on the show following a different blog, named Kifar or something, where the person was positing their daily reading response to the Qur'an. I thought this sounded like fun, and a good idea. I too have just started reading the Qur'an, and I think I would like to do a similar thing. This is the first time I'm reading the Koran as a whole. I have read detached portions, relevant to different classes on Islam that I have taken. From these classes I have a very basic understanding of Islam.

I respect Islam and the Qur'an, so I don’t seek to emphasize any particular agenda based reading. In other words, I don’t feel the need to emphasize what doesn’t make sense, or more generally I don’t feel the need to emphasize what I find different about the text. There is a sort of Islam phobia which exists in my society, which I would like to see done away with. I say this in response, sort of, to the recent “Draw Muhammad Day”, which was some sort of cultural statement. I would argue though that the majority of Americans heard nothing about the day and wouldn’t have wasted their time doing something so mean and pointless. Sure, you have the freedom to draw whatever you want, but this is different than the “Draw Muhammad Day”, that is just a day for bullying.

It is like sure, you can draw whatever you want, but drawing a picture of your grandma who has a giant goiter on her throat and then waving it in front of her face to upset her is being a bully, not an example of artistic expression. People that support that day are doing it to deliberately upset a group of people. All of this is a long way of saying I just want to read the Koran, out of a genuine interest and hope to learn something more about life, people, and the power of narrative.

So this was project one, which I will actually be starting at the bottom of this blog. So briefly, project two is going to be a serious of expeditions to the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Masonic Library. I want to report back what I find interesting here on this blog. I am doing preliminary research currently and beginning sometime next week, hopefully, I will make my first trip.

The third thing I want to start doing is attending more religious services in my local community. I hold more of an agnostic belief system, with a deep belief in spirituality, and I just want to witness and explore modern religious rituals. And obviously one way to do this would be to attend more religious services.

I am beginning with mainly Christian denominations, at first. This is not done out of any preference, but rather a choice from proximity. I live in so called Christian nation, and so that is what is around me. Much like my reading of the Qur'an, I am not initiating any of these projects out of some ulterior motive, but more because I just want to do some real research get more involved in actual experiences as opposed to getting my information largely through other people, in things like documentaries, books, etc. So that is what I hope to use this blog for…

To more relevant and specific comments, I just finished Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. I have taken a couple classes which touched on this philosopher, and I found his philosophy ringing true. I found his style funny, sharp, and ultimately damning to the issues he addressed. I believe in the classes we covered “The Genealogy of Moral”, “Ecce Homo”, and “Beyond Good and Evil”, all of which I enjoyed. When I say thoroughly enjoy I don’t mean to say his writing has brought me a lot of pleasure. He certainly doesn’t engender much hope or peace. I actually find reading him discomforting, but it is the discomfort of growth or exercise, which is ultimately enjoyable.

“Thus Spoke Zarathustra” is an all together different kind of piece. I am a well-trained and energetic reader and plowing through this text was at times a challenge. There is a dream-like narrative told, which can create great moments but also sometimes it wandered to the point of incomprehensibility. And I like incomprehensibility, but still even in my most well intentioned heart, I was plagued with a growing apathy towards the text. All this said, it is a wholly relevant text for our current time and all should take up the challenge.

The book seems the fictional embodiment of the philosophers’ ideas, much like Voltaire’s “Candide” or Plato’s “Euthyphro”. This is actually a reoccurring technique in the history of philosophical texts, which produces an interesting circularity, with the philosophical ideas in which the philosophy is taken, deduced from the experience, but then through the narrative the philosopher attempts to reintegrate the philosophy in a new world. One question I had from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, was Zarathustra himself, supposed to be the ideal representation of a philosopher? Or the supposed ideal of a life itself? Nietzsche himself is aware of the tension between critiquing the operating systems of value and attempting to assert your own theory of evaluation, so it makes me wonder.

Beyond these more meta-textual considerations, the book does provide a good source for critiques of the operating values systems. In other words, the social critique, or anyone else with right motivations, will find a solid source of motivation in this text. Nietzsche is at his most poetical and metaphorical. In other works Nietzsche employed the tool of aphorisms, but there is a poetic quality, unique to this text as well. As described, this is the narrative, figurative, metaphorical, poetical quality.

I watched a really interesting BBC documentary entitled “All Too Human”,

, and in it researchers discuss how by the end of his life Nietzsche was a sickly, mad man. I say this with all due respect, but from studying his work it does seem to imbue the reader with a similar dread. I think this dread is worthwhile to explore and become comfortable with. It is interesting that this life, which can to seem to have so much value and worth and one moment, can quickly become perverted and deconstructed to an unrecognizable and incompatible degree the next.

I think there is a challenge in Nietzsche, akin to the modern day troll of the internet, where Nietzsche as a  challenger stands as prophet of doom and deconstruction. This negative force of deconstruction is paradoxically a force of positive change. It seems, perhaps to intellectual discourses’ detriment, that people are only motivated by things which they can hate and attack. Benign things in discourse become ineffectual. In this sense then Nietzsche is appropriating the necessary tools for the job.

The job of course is multi-facetted. I hesitate to layout an ideology and call it Nietzsche’s, or even to label and describe the philosophy of the text itself. The truth is to be discovered in the journey itself. I will say, with some confidence, that the most basic point is that our current moral systems represent agendas, not truths. This is easy to recognize on an individual level. It is easy to see that what I find good is connected to what I desire and that what is bad is connected to what I don’t desire. Therefore morality is matter of desire, but Nietzsche is not offering some hedonistic ethic. Our desires are not obviously connected to pleasure and pain. Some find pain desirable, others find pleasurable things undesirable.

Nietzsche demonstrates how this moral understanding functions on a macro, societal level as well. This means that group desires function to create societal normative standards, meaning there will most likely be a battle of normative standards, based on the variety of perspective, from the variety of groups you find.

Nietzsche sees a larger historical story here. Now we have to ask a question is there over-simplification at a point in Nietzsche’s story, maybe not even over-simplification, but a specificity which can appear harsh or even racist. Readers of Nietzsche will understand my tip-toeing.

Plainly speaking, Nietzsche can come across as anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. Nietzsche can be read as an aristocratic, elitist, who is hateful towards the vulgar masses. Nietzsche undoubtedly does believe a vulgar morality has emerged victor in this battle for the moral value system, manifested in a Judaic, Christian ethic.

I can hear the crickets chirping, as my Nietzsche rants continues, so I will end it. Final words, read “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, you will probably be pissed and have a lot to think about.

Last thing Reading Response to Qur’an Section 17

       I am starting at section 17 because that was the section I was at when I decided to blog my reading. This was an interesting section, it discussed the Islamic tradition decision to face towards the East. For reference I am reading “The Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. I am not sure about the history of translation when it comes to the Koran, so hopefully this is an appropriate translation.

So the issue in section 17 is the Qiblah, which is the direction Muslims faced in prayer. I also read in this section in footnote 140, that Nas is a word that means people, I thought of this in light of rap artist Nas and the connection between the meaning of the word and his own ideals.

What is interesting in this section, is how this turning of orientation from west to east, is a significant religious declaration. It was a visual and actual symbol for Islam’s new orientation. Section 143 of the Qur’an states:

…We appointed the the Qiblah
to which thou was used,
only to test those who followed
the Apostle from those
who would turn on their heels
(from the Faith).

Not only does the Qiblah operate as a symbol of the unity of the Muslim brotherhood but it is also a test of sorts of the Apostle, presumably to see if he will "get it" or not. On the first point, it is obvious to see the power and effect of a people assuming the same modes of behavior in  prayers and rituals. This mass acceptance of the ritual surely validates, and emboldens an individual’s beliefs.

The second point is a little harder to understand. The idea that this decision of orientation reflects an ability of the individual to decipher the truth seems like a tough standard. One could argue the original Judaic orientation towards the West, is the default position, and so one would ask by what standard do we make the determination to orient ourselves in a different manner.

One answer provided by chapter 144 is that one reason is to face the Sacred Mosque, which is where the Ka’ba and the sacred city of Mecca or located. I am very interested in the Ka’ba and will have to learn more about it. I understand that the Ka’ba was said have been visited by Adam, and that is how it becomes thee important sight.
The final chapters of this section make a strong statement about “The People of the Book”. The gist of it is that these people remain willfully ignorant of the true signs of Islam. Chapter 145 states:

Even if thou wert to bring
To the People of the Book
All the Signs (together)
They woud not follow
Thy Qiblah; nor art thou
Going to follow their Qiblah;
Nor indeed will they follow
Each other’s Qiblah.

This is a hard declaration of separatism. The message is that there is a sort of predestined discrepancy of opinion. What is scary is how true the passage rings in this sense, when we check the claim against the real world. It is impossible to imagine the victory of any one of the monotheistic traditions over the other. This would be an obvious problem for most of these different groups.

The religious ideas are not just religious but also cultural. It is our cultural identities which we would not be able to abandon. One has to wonder, the value of a spiritual text which supports such an ultimate separation. As an outsider looking in it seems to suggest an inability to cross the cultural abyss.

I read about this idea of spiritual orientation in another book recently written by Patrick Dunn titled “Postmodern Magic”. In Appendix A of the book, he explains the proper way to create a magical circle. In doing that he addresses which direction the mage should face, he writes:

Stand facing east. You may prefer to stand behind an altar or some other specific place of working. Create an aesthetically pleasing environment.

Important note: You may, for a multitude of reasons, prefer a different direction for your starting point. This is fine. Remember, my example makes most sense to me, but your practice may be entirely different to resonate with your own personal intuition and experiences. Being in tune with your personal connections is most important: it is only you, the mage, who must be aesthetically empowered in a way that will be conducive to altering your reality and achieving your magical goals.

Although I use the system of directional correspondences I learned first, the one used by the Golden Dawn and other ceremonial magic groups founded on the same principles, I have met people who use other systems that work just as well for them. The important thing is to have a reason behind your direction correspondences. The Golden Dawn faces east because it is the direction the sun’s rising, therefore symbolizing light. Others face north because of its magnetic associations. I know several people who, when working indoors, just name the nearest wall with a window “east” and treat it as such! (218-219)

Now of course, this interpretation of the process is not in agreement, necessarily with the Qur’an’s explanation of the decision. I do find Dunn’s explanation and beliefs interesting. In one way it is just restating the first two idea of this discussion. That was that the way a group faces, strengthens the groups beliefs and that appropriate orientations strengthens belief more generally.

But, Dunn stand’s in opposition to the Qur’an’s other belief that our orientation is a test, which establishes if we hold the proper beliefs. Here the issue seems to be the power of the individual versus the power of the group. Dunn seems to think our magical power comes from us internally, while monotheists see a prescribed power which must be discovered and then obeyed.

There is plenty more to say, but I am sure many will not get this far. If you did, thanks for reading and I would love to hear any responses or ideas. Check back for Section 18 of the Qur’an tomorrow.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Post!

Gezz it has been months since I have written anything here. I was finishing a semester of school and so I didn't have to much time to write. I want to start writing a lot more. Anyways, one more week of finals, then I will be blogging a lot more. In the meantime check out this great talk!