Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I'm still working my way through the Qur'an and we'll probably (hopefully) have another post about it this afternoon.

But I just feel like saying, since I read 'A Year of Biblical Womanhood' and started on Pope Benedict XVI's first volume in his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy (first published, actually, but the second chronologically in the events recounted within the books) that I'm really starting to miss church.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

ARQ Project: Surah al-A'raaf

aka: The Heights

11. And We created you, then fashioned you, then told the angels: Fall ye prostrate before Adam! And they fell prostrate, all save Iblis, who was not of those who make prostration.

Every time I come across this it bothers me. Just a little niggle, mind you. Iblis (aka Satan) is in Islamic theology a jinn. Jinn are a third race of sentient beings that God created, from what I understand. You've got angels, jinn and humans. Angels, again from my understanding of Islamic theology, lack free will. They do only what God tells them and nothing else. Like winged robots. Jinn are made out of 'smokeless fire' and have free will. So there are good jinn and there are bad jinn. Humans, well. We know about humans. So I'm told that Iblis is a jinn who was so good, or so beloved by God, that he was allowed to hang out up in heaven with the angels. But he was never *actually* an angel because if he was then he wouldn't have been able to disobey God when God ordered the angels to bow to Adam. Fine. Got that. But, and this is probably a translation issue, this ayah above makes it sound like Iblis is an angel. And that annoys me since he's not supposed to be one.

19. And (unto man): O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden and eat from whence ye will, but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong-doers.

I can't recall if it's recounted in a later surah, but so far there's no account of Adam's wife being created. Unless it's the plural, universal 'you' being used up in ayah 11, in which case 'created you'...etc. could be taken to reference Adam and Eve/Hawa. But in that case, I have another annoyance where the angels are specifically told to bow down to *Adam* and not to both of them.

And can we all take a second to appreciate the silliness of putting a tree like that in the middle of the Garden and then telling them not to touch it? Unless, of course, you intended to have your handy dandy 'adversary' figure come along and point it out to them so they could eat it. Which is not, of course, a problem specific to Islam but to the entire creation story as it stands. It's basically God going, 'Big, shiny red button. DON'T TOUCH IT! Even though I made you with an almost irresistible impulse to push shiny red buttons.'

20. Then Satan whispered to them that he might manifest unto them that which was hidden from them of their shame, and he said: Your Lord forbade you from this tree only lest ye should become angels or become of the immortals.

Part of what I like about Islam's version of this story over the Jewish/Christian version: It's both Adam and Eve who are tempted by Satan. Not just Eve so that all the blame gets placed on her by her spineless husband later. Nope. Equal shiny red button  guilt!

22. Thus did he lead them on with guile. And when they tasted of the tree their shame was manifest to them and they began to hide (by heaping) on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called them, (saying): Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you: Lo! Satan is an open enemy to you? 

When did he tell them Iblis was a bad one? I reread the surah from the beginning and there's no mention of God going, 'Oh, by the by. Iblis? Shape shifting, sometimes invisible guy made of smokeless fire? Yeah. Don't trust him. He's shifty as fuck.' I'm just...look. We get the warning about the tree recorded but we don't get the warning about Iblis? Sure, *we* know he's shifty as fuck from reading the whole Iblis-God interaction from before and maybe Adam remembers him as that guy who refused to bow down but maybe not. Things were happening, it was all sort of crazy with the just being created and the shining glory of God and his angels and let's be honest, Adam was a little distracted. 

40. Lo! they who deny Our revelations and scorn them, for them the gates of heaven will nor be opened not will they enter the Garden until the camel goeth through the needle's eye. Thus do We requite the guilty.

Hmm...camel's and needles. Reminds me of something.

Matthew 19:24 - Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Two totally different meanings, aside from it being two different issues, as it were. In the ayah above, people who deny the revelation of God (the Qur'an) will never be able to enter heaven until a camel goes through the eye of a needle. In the verse from Matthew, a camel going through the eye of a needle (an impossible thing) is easier than a rich man (with all his attachments to the world and his goods/money/etc.) getting into heaven. Maybe it's just my reading, but it seems to me that the verse from the Gospel offers hope - a rich man can humble himself, give up his excess and help his fellow man, thereby becoming someone who can enter into heaven. In the ayah from the Qur'an, until that camel fits through that needles' eye, those deniers aren't getting into heaven.

44. And the dwellers of the Garden cry unto the dwellers of the Fire: We have found that which our Lord promised us (to be) the Truth. Have ye (too) found that which your Lord promised the Truth? They say: Yea, verily. And a crier in between them crieth: The curse of Allah is on evil-doers,

I know that this is not meant to be a literal scene, but the whole almost taunting of the people in paradise to the people in the hellfire doesn't sit well with me. It's like the descriptions I've heard from some Christians about how they'll watch all the sinners burning and laugh from their fluffy clouds in heaven. That's not nice. It's not Christian and it's another instance where I have to go, 'Well if that's heaven then I'm not interested.'

46. Between them is a veil. And on the Heights are men who know them all by their marks. And they call unto the dwellers of the Garden: Peace be unto you! They enter it not although they hope (to enter).

What are these 'heights' supposed to be? And who are the men standing on them? I don't understand this part at all.

124. Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off upon alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you every one.

The above ayah is said by Pharoah to the Egyptian magicians after they've been so impressed by Moses' magic/miracles that they begin to worship Moses' God. We remember me asking in an earlier surah if there was evidence of crucifixion as a punishment in other cultures aside from the Romans, yes? Well I've since spoken to Professor Google and according to several articles I've read it was a form of execution in many ancient cultures though the form of the 'cross' was not always the shape that we now associate it with.

But, with this, I reserve the right to be wrong if Google has lied to me. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

I remember reading, and really enjoying, A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically a couple of years ago. So when I heard mention of a woman who had done a similar project whose book was coming out I put it on my 'wishlist' (which is actually just a way of keeping track of things that are coming out that I want to read eventually) and waited.

When it finally came out I picked it up on my Kindle and read it while at the gym. So it took me a little while to finish it but not because it's a slow moving of boring book. Just because I was reading it in 30 - 60 minute chunks five days a week. I'd read some of the authors blog entries and knew that she had an engaging and personable style so I thought that at the least I wouldn't hate the book. The question was whether I'd like it or not because the author identifies as an evangelical which is a word that tends to send me skittering in the other direction.

It's (probably) a prejudiced misconception that I have but when I hear the word 'evangelical' I have a mental picture of people who are narrow minded and *angry* all the time. People who yell from the pulpit (I don't like that. I don't care who you are or what you're saying but if you yell from the pulpit I'm done. Unless you've just been stung by a wasp or found a spider crawling across your notes. Those would be acceptable exceptions.) and just wander around judging people and declaring that everyone who doesn't believe the way that they do is going to hell. But I picked up the book - it didn't hurt that it was on a really good sale - and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. There's a combination of truth and humour that I think most people can relate to. She takes her project seriously but is aware enough to admit that there are some ridiculous moments in the course of the project.

"If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation, who looks for the divine around every corner." - on how God can be found in any vocation, not just the 'homemaker' vocation that 'Biblical womanhood' touts as being the be all and end all of God's plan for women

"None of this information is easy to swallow. In light of passages like these, I have come to regard with some suspicion those who claim that the Bible never troubles them. I can only assume this means they haven't actually read it." - after a list of some of the really truly terrible laws about women in the Bible. Wherein the author basically just says what I think.

"Jesus once said that his mission was not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And in this instance, fulfilling the law meant letting it go. It may serve as little comfort to those who have suffered abuse at the hand of Bible-wielding literalists, but the disturbing laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy lose just a bit of their potency when God himself breaks them." - An interesting perspective. Did Jesus break the Law? Or did he break the law? If, as Jesus says, the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love one's neighbor, then in pursuit of fulfilling those commands if we break a 'law' (such as Jesus' healing on the Sabbath) are we guilty or vindicated by obeying the greater command?

"I took some comfort in the fact that the woman hailed as my model for submission wasn't any good at it either. Saint Peter chose an unlikely candidate in Sarah, who in a pivotal moment in Israel's history usurped the wishes of Abraham, and apparently won the support of God in her defiance." - when you think about it, the wives of the Patriarchs did kind of over rule their husbands when they wanted to. We remember them for being obedient or being wronged or being the mothers' of great men, but do we ever really think about what they themselves did?

On the 'Proverbs 31 woman':

"She's like the evangelical's Mary - venerated, idealized, glorified to the level of demigoddess, and yet expected to show up in every man's kitchen at dinnertime. Only unlike Mary, there is no indication that the Proverbs 31 woman actually existed."

"Like any good poem, the purpose of this one is to draw attention to the often over-looked glory of the everyday. The only instructive language it contains is directed toward men, with the admonition that a thankful husband honor his wife 'for all that her hands have done' (Proverbs 31:31). Old Testament scholar Ellen F. Davis notes that the poem was intended 'not to honor one particularly praiseworthy woman, but rather to underscore the central significance of women's skilled work in a household-based economy.' She concludes that 'it will not do to make facile comparisons between the biblical figure and the suburban housewife, or alternately between her and the modern career woman.'"

"But according to Ahava, the woman described in Proverbs 31 is not some ideal that exists out there; she is present in each one of us when we do even the smallest things with valor."

I didn't realize it until I started to make this post but I made 22 highlights in this book. I don't want this post to get excessively long so I'm leaving it at just the above couple of quotes.

It was fascinating for me to read through the months in this book and briefly meet some of the women around the country who live 'Biblical' lives in different ways.

I was deeply amused by the authors' repeated statement that she has trouble with multitasking. It's not a 'woman' or a 'man' thing, I think, but different from person to person. My amusement came mostly from reading what she was trying to do and laughing because I know I could do that with a lot less drama than what was going on on the page. :)

My one quibble, or I guess you could call it a wish, is that she didn't live the rules out for a full year. Not all of them. She broke them down into things to do from month to month and while I'm certain that that was instructive and helpful I think it would be interesting to see how someone unused to the lifestyle manages all of it for an entire year rather than a little bit at a time.

But all in all I enjoyed the book and I plan on picking up the authors other (first) book Evolving in Monkey Town at some point in the future. I've also started following her blog and I'm really looking forward to future posts in the year long series she's doing on sexuality and the church.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

ARQ Project: Surah al-An'am

The Cattle.

There is a story about cattle in here, towards the end, but I'm not sure I'm going to include it. Because, honestly, I didn't find it that interesting.

I didn't make a whole lot of notes for this surah. I'm actually finding a lot of the Qur'an, so far, to be repetitious. Not word for word, but it's all on a couple of themes.

1. The people who had the revelation before messed it up. They turned away, yadda, yadda. They're misguided.

2. God is awesome and you should listen to him and his prophet Mohammed (and all the other prophets too). If you don't, there's hellfire.

3. Good things await those who believe.

4. Food & Women. The ones you can have and the ones you can't.

But let's look at the couple of notes I did make.

8. They say: Why hath not an angel been sent down unto him? If We sent down an angel, then the matter would be judged; no further time would be allowed them (for reflection).

This is, I believe, in the context of people wondering why Mohammed was chosen as prophet. And I'm fairly certain that this isn't the idea that was meant when this was said/written down, but I can't help but think about so many of the angelic visitations in the Bible. They weren't, generally, good things. Sure, there's the visitation of Gabriel to Mary, the Annunciation. And the visit of the angels to Sarah and Abraham and Raphael's journey with Tobias. But in many more cases if an angel shows up bad things are about to go down. See: Sodom and Gomorrah. The death of the first born in Egypt. My note on this one is literally: 'angels are bad news'.

35. And if their aversion is grievous unto thee, then, if thou canst, seek a way down into the earth or a ladder unto the sky that thou mayst bring unto them a portent (to convince them all)! - If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance - So be not thou among the foolish ones.

Again, probably not what the point of this ayah is, but I can't help but be reminded of the story of John he Baptist being hidden from Herod and Jacob's ladder.

The story of John the Baptist in extra-Biblical, taken from the Protoevangelium of James:

22. And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall. And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. And there was no place of concealment. And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says: O mountain of God, receive mother and child. And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her. And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them.

And I think we're all familiar with Jacob's ladder, but just in case you're not:

10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He [a]came to [b]a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it [c]under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood [d]above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your [e]descendants. 14 Your [f]descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will [g]spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your [h]descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have [i]promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put [j]under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place [k]Bethel; however, [l]previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I [m]take, and will give me [n]food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in [o]safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Though I have to admit that as a child, picturing angels climbing up and down a ladder seemed utterly ridiculous to me. Of course now I imagine it was more like a staircase. *Much* more logical. :)

46. Say: Have ye imagined, if Allah should take away your hearing and your sight and seal your hearts, Who is the Allah Who could restore it to you save Allah? See how We display the revelations unto them! Yet still they turn away.

I should probably just title this post: Amber reading meaning that was probably not the intent of the author or the meaning anyone else sees in this. Reading this ayah all I could think about was Jesus' healings in the Gospels. He restored sight, the ability to walk, he healed diseases, he brought the dead back to life. All things that belong to the realm of God, right? And yet Jesus did them. I understand, the argument could be made that God did these things *through* Jesus the prophet. That it wasn't *Jesus* who did the healing, but God and Jesus was just the point man, so to speak. But on the other hand, assuming the position that Jesus is God, then the healings only go to prove that point.

Or at least those were the thoughts I had when reading this ayah. Again, my blog, I do what I want.

74 - 82: (Remember) when Abraham said unto his father Azar: Takest thou idols for gods? Lo! I see thee and thy folk in error manifest. Thus did We show Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he might be of those possessing certainty: When the night grew dark upon him he beheld a star. He said: This is my Lord. But when it set, he said: I love not things that set. And when he saw the moon uprising, he exclaimed: This is my Lord. But when it set, he said: Unless my Lord guide me, I surely shall become one of the folk who are astray. And when he saw the sun uprising, he cried: This is my Lord! This is greater! And when it set he exclaimed: O my people! Lo! I am free from all that ye associate (with Him). Lo! I have turned my face toward Him Who created the heavens and the earth, as one by nature upright, and I am not of the idolaters.

His people argued with him. He said: Dispute ye with me concerning Allah when He hath guided me? I fear not at all that which ye set up beside Him unless my Lord willeth aught. My Lord includeth all things in His knowledge. Will ye not then remember? How should I fear that which ye set up beside Him, when ye fear not to set up beside Allah that for which He hath revealed unto you no warrant? Which of the two factions hath more right to safety? (Answer me that) if ye have knowledge. Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided.

I don't know why, but this passage struck me as strange. All this emphasis, in conversations, is placed on following the faith of Abraham. Abraham the father of monotheism. But I read this and I just makes Abraham seem kind of silly to me. He worships the first neat thing he sees, and then when it proves to not be eternal or to change or what have you, he casts it aside and worships the next neat thing until he runs out of things. Or maybe I'm just reading it funny.

Do any of you have thoughts on this?

112. Thus have We appointed unto every prophet an adversary - devils of humankind and jinn who inspire in one another plausible discourse through guile. If thy Lord willed, they would not do so; so leave them alone with their devising;

I found this one interesting as it sort of works with my personal theory on the devil which is that he's just a guy doing his job. Free will is all well and good but unless you have *options*, what do you do with it? How can you choose 'right' when there's no 'wrong' to contrast it to? My Dad has this thing where he talks about how lucky we are to be living when and where we are. He talks about how miserable he'd be in a time without internet or power or clean water, etc. And he just doesn't get it (I think) when I point out that it's only because we can see the difference between the two times/places that we think we'd be miserable. If we were born in the 1500s we'd be as happy or as unhappy as anyone else in the time period had the chance to be. We wouldn't be mourning for our lack of satellite tv because we wouldn't know it existed in the future. You can't mourn or make choices between things that you don't know! 

And so, yes. This is a post of general rambling that has, I fear, very little to do with the actual content or intent of the surah.

I never said I was good at this stuff!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The machine knows I exist. Time to get out!

I came on here to work on a post that will go up later, probably tonight, and I noticed an uptick in the little graph that tracks visits. So, innately curious, I went to see what was up since I haven't gotten any more comments than usual.

Now I'm just totally confused:

1,574 views on my Surah al-Baqarah post. What? Why? Where are these people coming from?

Friday, January 11, 2013

I think I want to rename the blog.

Not just change the name, but change the url as well.

Now...what to name it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

ARQ Project: Surah al-Ma'ida

Because I'm lazy, all quotes from the Qur'an will, from now on, be taken from I'm using the Pickthall translation there because it seems to be closest to the hard copy translation I'm reading.

Right. At first I thought that the name of this surah was a reference to the food laws in Islam in general, since there seems to be a lot of mention of food that is okay in this surah. I was wrong about that, but we'll get to that later.

1. O ye who believe! Fulfil your indentures. The beast of cattle is made lawful unto you (for food) except that which is announced unto you (herein), game being unlawful when ye are on the pilgrimage. Lo! Allah ordaineth that which pleaseth Him.

So cattle (beef) is okay. Mmm...steak. 

But when Muslims are on their pilgrimage (hajj and I'm assuming that umrah is included in this proscription, but I could be wrong here) they're forbidden from hunting within the 'sacred territory'. I'm not sure how far that extends, actually? The city of Mecca? Not much hunting there nowadays anyway, I would think.

3. Forbidden unto you (for food) are carrion and blood and swineflesh, and that which hath been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been killed by (the goring of) horns, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which ye make lawful (by the death-stroke), and that which hath been immolated unto idols. And (forbidden is it) that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is an abomination. This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Some no-no's for food: carrion (which, really, unless you're *starving*, how many of you are planning on eating roadkill? Or something that's half-eaten by wild animals? this one just seems like a health related proscription), blood (meh. I'm not saying we should all be *vampires* or anything, but I don't understand the specific injunction against blood here) and swineflesh which, as I think we all know, means no pork. And that's really a very hard thing to give up in the South. I'm just throwing that out there. We like to eat our pork. Historically though, this does make sense even aside from it being something carried over from the Mosaic Law. Pork is one of those meats that has to be stored and cooked carefully in order to prevent brain worms.

No really. 

Brain. Worms.

They eat holes through your brain. Go look it up, but I warn you the images are disturbing.


And yet I still like to eat pork. Because Southern.

A few more don'ts: don't eat anything that's been sacrificed/dedicated to another god - I believe this one is also a law in Judaism, strangled or dead through beating - not sure about these - an attempt to make sure that the animals are killed humanely perhaps? The 'devoured by wild beasts' and 'immolated unto idols' seem sort of repetitious of the first injunctions to me.

There is a provision, there at the end, for Muslims who are forced through necessity to consume something that is otherwise forbidden. So that's nice. You don't have to starve if the only thing available is pork.

But you do have to worry about BRAIN WORMS.

There're more ayah about food, but it gets sort of boring to talk about food all the time. So we're moving on. Watch us. Moving on.

5. This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when ye give them their marriage portions and live with them in honour, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denieth the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter.

Not talking about the food, though I assume that this means that Muslims are permitted to eat the food of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) as long as it's not something explicitly prohibited to them. Like pork (in all its wormy goodness).

But what I wanted to talk about in this surah is how the women (virtuous) of the People of the Book are lawful as spouses to Muslim men without having to convert to Islam. This passage, from what I understand, is what people use to justify mixed faith marriages but only when it is the woman who is a Jew or a Christian and not the man. Because...patriarchy? It just strikes me as strange because any study you look at will tell you that it is the faith of the mother that has the greatest impact on the children in a relationship. So if the idea is to make sure that any children are Muslim it's sort of missing the point. Admittedly these are modern studies so perhaps they don't reflect how it worked historically.

6. O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks.

Instructions for becoming ritually pure prior to prayer. I'm thinking that 'from the closet' is a euphemism for using the bathroom. And I'm assuming that 'contact with women' does not mean 'Ooops. I brushed up against a girl passing by. COOTIES!' and that it means sex. And you should totally always bathe after sex. Because, assuming you're doing it right, you're going to be a little stinky. And if you're not stinky, then you're doing it wrong. Which is sad.

18. The Jews and Christians say: We are sons of Allah and His loved ones. Say: Why then doth He chastise you for your sins? Nay, ye are but mortals of His creating. He forgiveth whom He will, and chastiseth whom He will. Allah's is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, and unto Him is the journeying.

I read this as a misunderstanding of the meaning of 'sons' in this case. Because let's sit back and think about this for a second. The ayah is essentially saying: 'The Jews and the Christians claim to be the sons and the beloved of God. But then why is God punishing you for your sins? You're just humans!' Which seems to say, at least to me, that the understanding of 'son' here is that Jews and Christians are claiming to be divine in some way. And that's just not the case. 'Sons' and 'daughters' are the closest approximations in human understanding that we can come to our relationship with God. Beloved, *adopted* children. Don't you discipline your children? Assuming you have any. Or your nieces or nephews or any other child you have had recourse to care for? Of course you do. Letting them run wild and do what they want is a sure path to disaster because their immature little brains don't have all the facts. They can't even process them the way an adult brain does.

20. And (remember) when Moses said unto his people: O my people! Remember Allah's favour unto you, how He placed among you prophets, and He made you kings, and gave you that (which) He gave not to any (other) of (His) creatures.

21. O my people! Go into the holy land which Allah hath ordained for you. Turn not in flight, for surely ye turn back as losers:

22. They said: O Moses! Lo! a giant people (dwell) therein and lo! we go not in till they go forth from thence. When they go forth from thence, then we will enter (not till then).

23. Then out spake two of those who feared (their Lord, men) unto whom Allah had been gracious: Enter in upon them by the gate, for if ye enter by it, lo! ye will be victorious. So put your trust (in Allah) if ye are indeed believers.

24. They said: O Moses! We will never enter (the land) while they are in it. So go thou and thy Lord and fight! We will sit here.

25. He said: My Lord! I have control of none but myself and my brother, so distinguish between us and the wrong-doing folk.

26. (Their Lord) said: For this the land will surely be forbidden them for forty years that they will wander in the earth, bewildered. So grieve not over the wrongdoing folk.

From what I recall (I'm not of the 'memorize scripture' tradition unlike some people I know...Susanne!) this is fairly consistent with the story of the same events in the Old Testament.

33. The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom;

Is there evidence for crucifixion as a punishment in the ancient Middle East? I've been under the impression that it was a strictly Roman form of execution.

89. Allah will not take you to task for that which is unintentional in your oaths, but He will take you to task for the oaths which ye swear in earnest. The expiation thereof is the feeding of ten of the needy with the average of that wherewith ye feed your own folk, or the clothing of them, or the liberation of a slave, and for him who findeth not (the wherewithal to do so) then a three days' fast. This is the expiation of your oaths when ye have sworn; and keep your oaths. Thus Allah expoundeth unto you His revelations in order that ye may give thanks.

I'm wondering exactly what the first line means. I'm reading it as God won't hold you to...I think the nearest description I can get is surprised exclamations. Like...'I swear to God if this machine doesn't work I'm going to chuck it in the pond!' You don't *really* mean it, have no intention of chucking anything in the pond, you're just frustrated. As opposed to 'I swear by God I will donate X number of baby blankets to the shelter.' and then you don't follow through with it or never had any intentions to follow through with it and just said it to look good.

Which is sort of in contrast to what we were taught in RCIA. We were taught to never, ever use God's name in an oath even if it's a ridiculous one like shoving the copier into the pond.

101. O ye who believe! Ask not of things which, if they were made (known) unto you, would trouble you; but if ye ask of them when the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be made known unto you. Allah pardoneth this, for Allah is Forgiving, Clement.

First, I totally interjected that 'known' in parenthesis up there. Because it's not in the copy on the internet but it's in other translations and it makes sense. So. 

I don't agree with this one! Just because something might trouble you doesn't mean you shouldn't ask about it. How're you supposed to know what will trouble you until you ask anyway? I just don't like it. Don't agree with it. It's counter to the purpose of gathering knowledge and I don't agree.

Here's where the actual reason behind the title of this surah comes in:

112. When the disciples said: O Jesus, son of Mary! Is thy Lord able to send down for us a table spread with food from heaven? He said: Observe your duty to Allah, if ye are true believers.

113. (They said:) We wish to eat thereof, that we may satisfy our hearts and know that thou hast spoken truth to us, and that thereof we may be witnesses.

114. Jesus, son of Mary, said: O Allah, Lord of us! Send down for us a table spread with food from heaven, that it may be a feast for us, for the first of us and for the last of us, and a sign from Thee. Give us sustenance, for Thou art the Best of Sustainers.

115. Allah said: Lo! I send it down for you. And whoso disbelieveth of you afterward, him surely will I punish with a punishment wherewith I have not punished any of (My) creatures.

Irreverent as it may be, this is what came to my mind when I read this:

Only, you know, without the ham. And Jesus was there doing a magician style Ta-Dah! reveal.
I don't know, there's just something about the disciples asking for a table full of food as a proving miracle that sits oddly with me. You've seen the man heal the blind! Cast out demons! Make the paralyzed walk! But none of that is proof. You know what *is* proof? A nicely set table. *does magician assistant pose*

116. And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden?

Personal pet peeve time.

Look. NO ONE worships Mary as a god(dess). No one who calls themselves a Christian anyway. And yes, Orthodox and Catholics *are* Christian. This is just...this is just one of those things that makes me sit back and go, 'Wow. You totally misunderstood what was going on right there. Totally.' There's not even anything to say to this but, 'No, you're wrong.'

Friday, January 4, 2013

That Uncomfortable Moment When You Realize You're Javert

FAIR WARNING: If you are one of the two people on the planet who has *never* seen or heard about the plot of Les Miserables (movies, musical or novel), then this post will contain spoilers. Go see/read one of the multiple options and then come back. Or be spoiled a little. Your choice.

ETA: Susanne linked me to a very good article about the two viewpoints of Christianity that are presented in Les Miserables here.

Also, TW for the movie/musical/book: death, prostitution, violence and suicide.

I've see the new Les Miserables twice, fyi. It's fabulous and you should all go see it if and when you get the chance. It's about 2 1/2 hours long, true, but it's worth carving that time out of your schedule, trust me.

Never before have I been in a movie and heard the entire theater trying to cry quietly.

I really want to buy the 'highlights' soundtrack so I can play it on endless repeat in my car, but so far I've resisted. One of my goals this year is to be more fiscally responsible. *sets face in responsible, adult lines* We'll see how long that lasts. But my mind has been replaying bits and pieces of the music that I can remember all week. And one of the songs that sticks out is The Confrontation, which is an encounter between Valjean and Javert at Fantine's death bed.

Lyrics from here:

Valjean, at last,
We see each other plain
`M'sieur le Mayor,'
You'll wear a different chain!

Before you say another word, Javert
Before you chain me up like a slave again
Listen to me! There is something I must do.
This woman leaves behind a suffering child.
There is none but me who can intercede,
In Mercy's name, three days are all I need.
Then I'll return, I pledge my word.
Then I'll return...

You must think me mad!
I've hunted you across the years
A man like you can never change
A man such as you.

[VALJEAN (in counterpoint)]
Believe of me what you will
There is a duty that I'm sworn to do
You know nothing of my life
All I did was steal some bread
You know nothing of the world
You would sooner see me dead
But not before I see this justice
I am warning you Javert
I'm a stronger man by far
There is power in me yet
My race is not yet run
I am warning you Javert
There is nothing I won't dare
If I have to kill you here
I'll do what must be done!

[JAVERT (in counterpoint)]
Men like me can never change
Men like you can never change
My duty's to the law - you have no
Come with me 24601
Now the wheel has turned around
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Dare you talk to me of crime
And the price you had to pay
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way
You know nothing of Javert
I was born inside a jail
I was born with scum like you
I am from the gutter too!

[Valjean breaks a chair and threatens Javert with the broken piece.
Turns to Fantine]

[to Fantine] And this I swear to you tonight

[to Valjean] There is no place for you to hide

Your child will live within my care

Wherever you may hide away

And I will raise her to the light.

I swear to you, I will be there!

[They fight, Javert is knocked out. Valjean escapes]

And also Javert's Soliloquy from near the end:

Who is this man?
What sort of devil is he?
To have me caught in a trap
And choose to let me go free?
It was his hour at last
To put a seal on my fate,
Wipe out the past,
And wash me clean off the slate.
All it would take was a flick of his knife.
Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life!
Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief
Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I'll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!

How can I now allow this man
To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man that I have hunted
He gave me my life. He gave me freedom.

I should have perished by his hand
It was his right.
I was my right to die as well.
Instead I live -- but live in hell.

And my thoughts fly apart.
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?

And must I now begin to doubt,
Who never doubted all those years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles.
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That, granting me my life today,
This man has killed me even so?

I am reaching but I fall
And the stars are black and cold
As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold
I'll escape now from that world
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on...

Here's the thing about Javert: he's the 'villain' as much as there is one, but he's *not* a villain. He's not a bad guy. He just sees the world in very, extremely black and white terms. Valjean stole once, he was condemned as a criminal and that's that. He will never be able to change. Nothing good can come from such bad soil. Which, as we know, is not true. Valjean does change and does become a good man. Javert can't see that though, not until the end and then it shatters his world.

And let me just digress for a second to mention how both soliloquies, Valjean's near the beginning and Javert's near the end are done to the same tune because they're both have the same sort of reality changing realization that the way they live, the way the think the world works is not the only way. But Valjean rises from his despair, from his darkest point and makes himself into the good man that he could always have been and Javert...well. He doesn't rise.

Wait, wait, here: Here's Valjean's soliloquy:

What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night,
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far,
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate,
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?

If there's another way to go
I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me

Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!

One word from him and I'd be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I'll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

[He tears up his yellow ticket-of-leave]
[Constables leave. The bishop addresses Valjean]

But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!

Yeah. So. *leaves that there*

Good god people, SEE THIS MOVIE!!!

Wolverine commands you.

Where was I?

Right. At the end of my speech class (which I got an A in, by the way), we had to do group projects. Let me digress, again, for a second and say that I HATE GROUP PROJECTS! There's always at least one person who cannot, will not, get their shit together and do their work. I'd rather have to do a big project all by myself than work with a group, no lie.

So. One of the other groups did a speech about how we should have mandatory AA and NA in prisons, so that people won't re-offend (or have less of a chance of re-offending) than they do now when their addictions are left untreated. There's always (in this class) a question and answer time after speeches, so that people can get any opinions out or ask for clarification or whatever. And I argued with the people in the group about the premise of their speech because I don't believe that their idea would do any good.

Do AA and NA help? I'm sure they do. I've heard plenty of recovery stories and I have no doubt that if the person is willing to participate and deal with their problem that these programs do a lot of good. But the people have to be ready, in themselves, to embrace the program. Forcing them into it is, to my mind, like my Christian school forcing me into Bible study classes. I sat there and ripped the lessons apart and got nothing from the class. It wasn't until I was ready that I got anything out of learning about the Bible.

Sounds reasonable, right? You can disagree with me (they did, trust me), but it's not an unreasonable position to take, I think. But what I didn't recognize until just recently, while listening to the Confrontation over and over in my head, is that part of why I dismissed their idea so out of hand was that I don't believe addicts can ever change. And I can sit here and tell you why, that it's left over scarring from my childhood and my step-father and the many times that he said he would change, that he was better and he never was, but that's not the point. The point is, I'm fucking Javert here. (And not in the good way!)

I'm just going to leave this here for you. Enjoy.
I'm not willing to give these people, who are not my step-father, a chance. In spite of evidence that they can and have changed the way they live their lives.

I always had trouble with the 'forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us' part of the Lord's Prayer too. I'm a vengeful person apparently.

And I don't like that about myself.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

ARQ Project: Surah an-Nisa

In which it is all about the women. So there. Let's get right into this.

2. Give orphans what is theirs and do not substitute your worthless things for their good ones, and do not devour their substance along with your own, for verily it is a great sin.

Let me just say how amused I am reading this first ayah. Not that it's a silly ayah or unimportant, because I think it is very important that people who have charge of orphans who come with, perhaps, an inheritance that you are keeping in trust for them not treat that trust ad though it belongs to you. It's not yours. What I find amusing is the mental image I get of someone dividing things into two piles, the orphans' belongings and the guardians, and going, 'Your shit', pointing to one pile, 'Not your shit.' and pointing to the orphans' things. Could just be a me thing though.

3. If you fear that you cannot act justly among orphans, then marry women who seem good to you, two or three or four, and if you fear that you shall not deal justly (with many), then (marry) only one, or whom your right hands have acquired; that is more proper for you else you should err.

Okay, at first I read this and I thought that it was telling the men to marry the orphans, and that was giving me issues because I picture orphans as like...Little Orphan Annie, you know? Definitely not marrying material. Then I was typing it out for the post and I had this thought: what if it's just saying, if you become responsible for an orphan and oh don't think that oh can act 'justly' which I assume means keeping up your responsibility to not touch use their shit like it's yours, then get married and our wife/wives will keep you on line. Slacker.

Also, *points up* I know that technically the Qur'an allows for polygamy, so does the Bible, I don't care what oh say about Jesus changing that, unless you can point me to where Jesus (or one of the prophets speaking for God) specifically says 'One wife at a time.' then polygamy is still on the Biblical table. But. There's a very important caveat up there; 'if you feel that you shall not deal justly (with many), then (marry) only one' - it goes on about 'right hand possessions' but since we all agree that slavery is *wrong*, we're not going to go there. No one should have slaves anymore, but you could maybe have multiple wives (or spouses). The idea being, to my mind, that it's permissible/allowed for someone to have more than one wife but *only* if they can deal justly (fairly) with all of them. This comes back later, so just keep it in mind.

4. Give women their dowry freely (without any) restraint; but if they of their own accord are pleased to give up to you anything thereof, then (you may) spend it with pleasure (and it shall be) wholesome (to you).

Womens' money/property is theirs, not their husbands. If the women decide to share it or to put in for expenses, then that's their business. But it doesn't automatically become the husbands' property once they marry. Just...throwing that out there.

5. Do not give away your property which God has made for you (a means) for sustenance to the weak-minded, but maintain them therewith, and clothe them, and speak to them with words of kindness and counsel.

So I have a question about the above ayah. Does anyone else think that it's referring to dependents who are never going to be mentally mature? People with Down's Syndrome, for example, or similar conditions. 

Inheritance laws are covered in ayah 11 and 12. Here's an accurate visual representation of my face reading these: @.@ I hate math. Maybe that's my problem. I start reading about half of this and one eighth of that and I start going LALALALALAAAAAAAAA until the numbers stop. Does anyone understand the inheritance laws set out in the Qur'an in a way that they can explain them to me? Fractions man. Fractions.

15. As to those who are guilty of lewdness among your women, bring four witnesses against them from among yourselves, and if they bear witness, confine them to their houses till death takes them away or God makes some way for them.

What's the definition of 'lewdness' here? When I hear 'lewdness' I think of flashers, maybe, or people having sex in public. Both are 'lewd' behaviors in my mind. And they get, I guess it sounds like permanent house arrest here.

18. Repentance is not for those who (continue to) do evil until, when death comes to one of them, he says: "Now surely I repent," nor for those who die unbelievers; these are they for whom We have prepared a grievous torment.

So no death bed conversions in Islam? Or just no converting because of fear of death maybe. I would assume that someone who converted shortly before their death, through sincere reasons that had nothing to do with being afraid of death, their belief would be accepted.

The 'no fly zones':

22. Do not marry women whom your fathers had married, except what has already passed, for it is shameful and abominable and an evil way. 23. Forbidden to you are your mothers, daughters, sisters, paternal aunts and maternal aunts, the daughters of your sister, your foster-mothers and your foster-sisters, the mothers of your wives, and your stepdaughters in your guardianship (born) of your wives to whom you have had cohabitation-but if you have not cohabited with them, it shall not be a sin on you (to marry them) - and the wives of your sons who are of your own loins, and that you combine two sisters (at one and the same time in wedlock), except what has already passed; God is Forgiving, Merciful. 24. All protected (married) women (are forbidden unto you) save those whom your right hand possesses. (This is) God's written guidance to you. Other women are lawful for you, provided that you seek them with (dowries from) your own property, taking them honorably, not in debauchery. Those whom you marry for a fixed period of time (i.e. in mut'a), give them their dowries, and there is no blame on you concerning whatever you mutually agree after what is appointed. Verily, God is all-Knowing, Wise.

I actually have a question only about a short part of the next ayah, but I don't want to not quote the whole thing:

25. Whoever of you does not have enough means to marry believing women, then (let him marry) from among those whom your right hands possess (slaves or captives) from among your believing maidens; God has full knowledge of your faith. You are one from the other, so marry them, with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, being chaste, not committing lewdness, nor receiving lovers (secretly), and after they are protected (in wedlock), if they are proved guilty of lewdness, then on them shall be half the punishment (prescribed) for free women. This is permission for him among you who fears falling into evil; and that you show self-restraint is better for you, and God is Forgiving, Merciful.

My question is about the half-punishment for married slave women. From earlier, the punishment for wives caught in lewdness is house arrest until their death (or until God finds another path for them, which I'm not sure what that means). So what would half of that be? House arrest for half their life?

31. If you avoid the great sins which you are forbidden, We will remit from you your misdeeds, and We will admit you into Paradise, an honorable place it is indeed.

I read this as saying if you manage to avoid the Big Sins (like shirk, I assume), then God will forgive you any minor sins that you haven't repented of/made amends for.

32. Do not covet that whereby God has raised some of you above others; for men shall have the benefit of what they earn, and women shall have the benefit of what they earn, and ask God of His Grace; surely God knows all things.

Women keep what they earn. It does not automatically become the property of their husband. Which is an attitude that I have seen in certain extreme Christian groups, by the way. And it used to be the law of the land. Women belonged to their husbands (and by 'land' I mean the US just so you don't get confused) and everything that they made belonged to their husbands.

34. Men have authority over women on account of that with which God has caused one of them to excel over the other, and for what they spend of their sustenance; therefore, righteous women are obedient, guarding the unperceivable just as God has guarded. As for whose whose disloyalty you fear, admonish them, then keep away from them in bed, then beat them (lightly), and if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; God is ever-High, ever-Great.

In the first part of this ayah we have the 'reason' that men are in authority is because God has said so. But a part of that is that they're responsible for the upkeep of their household - they have to pay for everything and their wives can have jobs and earn money and they don't have to contribute any of that money to the house. So in appreciation of the men running and paying for everything, women aren't pains in the asses and guard what God would have them guard. The...sanctity of the house, maybe? Like the story of Ishmael's wives?

As for the beating (lightly). Well. No. I'm reading that as a time/culture thing because you don't beat your wife. Not ever. Not anymore. And I guarantee you, any husband of mine ever tries to beat me he's not going to wake up the next morning. I have Strong Feelings about abuse, okay?

36. Worship God and do not associate anything with Him, and do good deeds to your parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the needy, the close neighbor and the neighbor who is a stranger, to a companion by your side and to the wayfarer, and to that whom your right hands possess; surely God does not love the proud, the boastful.

I read this as something similar to the lesson learned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Do good deeds for *everyone*, not just the people nearest to your heart or your geography.

48. Verily God does not forgive that anything is associated with Him, but He forgives what is besides that to whomsoever He pleases, and whoever associates anything with God has indeed committed a great sin.

What about people who don't realize that they're associating anything with God? In the Islamic viewpoint Trinitarian Christians are associating partners with God which, according to this verse, is something God does not forgive. But if you speak to Trinitarians they believe that the three Persons make up One God and so to their minds there are no 'partners' with God, just God. So would God forgive people like that if they realize their error do you think?

129. You will never be able to do justice between your wives, even though you may be intent (on it), so do not turn away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as if it were) hanging (in the air), and if you effect a reconciliation and guard yourselves (against evil), verily, God is oft-Forgiving, Merciful.

Remember above, in ayah 3, where it said you can marry up to four but only if you can deal 'justly' with all of them? Boom. You can't. So it's probably better to only marry one. But the Qur'an, or at least my reading of this, doesn't want these men to just abandon wives once they realize this which is what I see with the whole 'don't turn away from them altogether' part here.

Okay, I'm doing a bad thing by pulling out just one ayah out of a section but:

156. And for their disbelief, and for their utterance of a grievous calumny against Mary;

I'm wondering what the 'grievous calumny' is here. The ayah before it is talking about the Jews' hearts being covered  and breaking their covenants and the ayah after it is talking about them claiming to have killed Jesus when they really didn't because God didn't allow it. I'm not seeing the calumny against Mary in those.

And that's what I've got for this surah. Any thoughts? Questions? Things I missed or didn't address?
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