Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jesus - the Son of Mary

On this special day of the symbolic celebration of the birth of Jesus, I think it is useful to remember that Hazrat Nabi Isa is also one who is inferred amongst those referenced in al-Fatiha. In his book, "The Muslim Jesus", Tarif Khalidi summarizes well the Qur'anic perspective on Jesus:

" With respect to form, the references to Jesus in the Qur'an can be divided into four groups:
(1) birth and infancy stories, (2) miracles, (3) conversations between Jesus and God or between Jesus and the Israelites, and (4) divine pronouncements on his humanity, servanthood, and place in the prophetic line which stipulate that "fanatical" opinions about him must be abandoned. As regards the first two groups, there is little reason to question their close affinity with certain apocryphal gospels and with Syriac, Coptic, and Ethiopic literature. His sinless birth - which in the Qur'an takes place under a palm tree -and the words he speaks as an infant in the cradle are all ayat ("signs"), manifestations of divine favor shown to him and his mother. His miracles are not narrated so much as listed as reminders of the power granted to him by God to cure the sick and raise the dead. Unlike canonical Gospels, the Qur'an tilts backward to his miraculous birth rather than forward to his Passion. This is why he is often referred to as "the son of Mary" and why he and his mother frequently appear together. At his side, she confirms his miraculous pure birth. But his "death" is equally miraculous: he is lifted up to God, where according to later Islamic tradition he remained alive and waiting to fulfill his appointed role at the end of time, a role merely hinted at in the Qur'an (43:61). He himself is described as an aya, a sign or miraculous proof of God's omnipotence; and although other prophets share this attribute - and share also, of course, the ability to effect miracles - Jesus is unique in his ability to inspire so much Qur'anic tension, the aim being to establish the ultimate truth about him."

~Excerpted from "The Muslim Jesus" by Tarif Khalidi, 2001, pp. 14-15

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mary - the Blessed Virgin of Islam

Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim.

"And when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! God hath chosen thee and purified thee, and hath preferred thee above the women of all nations." (3:42)

On the eve of the symbolic celebration of the immaculate birth of Jesus, as we contemplate the verse, "sirat al-ladhina an 'amta 'alayhim," I have often wondered whether those who were inferred by this verse were all male prophets (for our Sunni brothers and sisters in faith) in addition to all male Imams (for our Shia brothers and sisters in faith). I also wondered if there was any feminine dimension to those who were graced by Allah so that our salat and/or du'a was not based primarily on a patriarchal paradigm of prophecy and divine revelation.

Dr. Aliah Schleifer, a former professor of Islamic Studies at the American University of Cairo, wrote her doctoral dissertation on just this topic, which I invite you all to peruse. Clearly Miriam has been unconsciously present in al-Fatiha despite the normal patriarchal commentaries of the past. For some of us, let us not forget that the inference also includes Fatima the radiant daughter of the Holy Prophet, pbuh.

In Dr. Aliah Schleifer's work, "Mary - the Blessed Virgin of Islam," published posthumously, she explored the theological status of Mary in Islam. She referenced Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi (d. 456AH) who argued in favor of the claim for Mary's prophethood and hence the highest status of woman as equal to that of men:

"Ibn Hazm considers Mary to be unquestionably a prophetess. He states that God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary with a message to her (19:19), which he describes as 'genuine prophecy'
(nubuwwa sahiha). In addition, he refers to other miraculous experiences such as the divine provisions in the mihrab. Ibn Hazm then places Mary in the general category of Prophets by applying the statement in 19:58 to the Chapter of Mary as a whole:

Those were they among the prophets to whom God showed favour....(19:58)

He points out that Mary is mentioned among those prophets in the Chapter of Mary, and this inclusion of her within the general category of prophets renders it impossible to make an exception and exclude her from that category. He further states that neither does the Qur'anic statement 'And his mother was a righteous woman' (siddiqa) (5:75) rule out her being a prophetess, as elsewhere the Qur'an, in connection with the prophet Joseph says: 'Joseph! O thou truthful (upright) one.' (siddiq) (12:46), which does not impugn his prophetic status.

Then he mentions the hadith kamula min ar-rijal, in which he indicates that the Prophet was specifying Mary and Asiya, preferring these two above other women who have been vouchsafed prophecy. To show that some human beings are preferred above others, Ibn Hazm quotes the following text:

Those messengers: We have preferred (faddalna) some above others;-
of them there are those unto whom God spoke; and
He exalted some of them in degrees (above others)....(2:253)

Having considered the matter from various perspectives, Ibn Hazm concludes:

There are individuals whom God made more excellent than others, such as the prophets Muhammad and Abraham, according to what has been transmitted to us; and the perfection of Mary and Asiya over other women is confirmed by the Prophet's hadith."

~ Excerpt from "Mary - The Blessed Virgin of Islam" by Alia Schleifer (1997) pp. 85-86

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The psychology of the Wrath of God

When reflecting on the image and archetype of the Wrath of God, which is mentioned in al-Fatiha and hence common to all Muslims, I came across an analysis by Greg Mogenson, a Canadian Jungian analyst and analytical psychologist, whose book "A Most Accursed Religion - When a Trauma becomes God" is very illuminating about this topic. He comments on the language of wrath in the Hebrew Bible and its meta-messages using verses from Isaiah and Job and comes to this insight:

"The wrath of God and the kindness of God are complexly interwoven. When we are crushed and broken by an overwhelming event, we experience firsthand what the ancient Hebrews knew as the rod of His wrath. A natural piety is called into play, a piety of terror and dread. Brought low, broken asunder, we prostrate ourselves before the stimulus that threatens to annihilate us as if before our Maker. Typically, there is a moral moment. It seems that we are being punished. But what are we being punished for? What have we done to warrant this affliction? We search ourselves for sin. If we can find ourselves guilty of some error or indiscretion, our suffering will at least make sense and we can set about making our atonement.

Often, however, we can find no sin and our affliction seems quite senseless. But here, too, we are easily given over to piety. As the pain increases so, too, does our sense of relationship to an omnipotent being. As the persistence of our suffering mocks our ability to understand it within the categories of our usual existence, our sense of relationship to a wholly other will and purpose grows. Gradually, conversion dawns. The ontology of the event that traumatizes us upstages our own ontology. In order to survive, we enter into the route of that which afflicts us and allow ourselves to be re-created by it. Submitting ourselves to its epistemology, we become the keepers of its law. "Glory, Glory, Glory, for the Lord, God, Omnipotent reigneth!" As piously as the phobic patient propitiates the eliciting stimulus of his phobia, we propitiate the overwhelming event that has transcended us, acknowledging its holiness. Only in the eye of the storm do we feel safe. Only in those ritualized observances that the faithless call our "symptoms" are we the children of God."

~ excerpt from "A Most Accursed Religion", by Greg Mogenson, pp. 28-29