Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Fate of the Disbelievers

Many claim the Quran is a book of justice, peace and equality. This assertion is often used to promote a kinder, gentler Islam but is rarely backed with examples.  When I read or hear these assertions, I find myself cringing a little because that is not what I find when I open the covers of the book. I’ve been thinking about how I can reach such a different conclusion; how I find a book full of threats and an overtly angry and punishing God.

I’m sympathetic to the modern-day pressures felt by the Muslim community. Justified feelings of humility and the pressures of post-colonialism have colored Islamic thought in the last two centuries and things have gotten even more ugly in this post  9/11 world. The current state of the Muslim world is a complex subject to be explored and deserves an honest introspection.

However, my argument is that Islam and Muslims have always been pitted against the disbelievers. Early on in Islamic history, Muslims tried hard to separate themselves from the disbelievers and the enmity and violent upheaval of those times find themselves into the verse.

Islam does offer  justice to those within a Muslim society and to the believers. The  poor are given charity, the orphans are cared for. Murderers and thieves are punished. Even women have a right to support by their male relatives in all instances, although she may have to share her husband with others, and accept a lesser inheritance. Slavery is acceptable in the eyes of Allah, but kindness to your human property is highly prized and rewarded. Religious minorities are protected, although at the cost of the jizya. The Quran outlines all the things necessary for a functioning society, but at at the heart of this society, Islam must prevail: 

 Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (9:29).

It’s a matter of debate whether or not living under an  Islamic system of law as outlined in the Quran would be just to those living within it, either Muslim or not. However, it is often the case in religious systems that the concept of justice is carried out in the afterlife. From a purely supernatural standpoint, the fate of those who decide not to sumit to the laws of Islam and reject either the superiority of Allah or his existence altogether will surely be punished in the afterlife.

I don’t think those of us who disbelieve would have so many issues with religion if, in general, it was more universal and accepting of diverse human opinions. Religion creates a sort of tribalism, a dichotomy between us and them. Of course, humankind will tend toward this type of behavior with almost any ideology, but when it is codified into practice by the actual scripture it becomes more problematic because now the hatred and placement of inferiority of the other is sanctioned by God himself.

Yes, the Quran does speak of justice, but it is almost always juxtaposed against the dichotomy of the believers versus the unbelievers:

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.

Those who reject faith and deny our signs will be companions of Hell-fire. (5:8-10).

It was never a universal message of love or justice. It was a promise of rewards to the believer and submitter to Allah. Those who resist, rather in body or mind, meet a terrible punishment, either in this life or the next. It’s difficult to respect a system of belief that essentially declares you are going to burn in hell forever and I don’t find any justice in that.

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Jesus, Jesus

I live in tornado alley. I was born and raised in this place where we measure the time with the change in seasons. Often times our elders will refer to the past as the winter we had that terrible snow storm or the spring all of town flooded or the summer it hit 100 degrees every day in the month of July. No weather is as severe or as worthy of respect, fear and awe as the tornado. My childhood is marked with evenings spent in the musty, damp air of the  basement, fear and nervous excitement in the air, huddled with my family around the battery-powered radio.  The weatherman’s voice was like some distant and wise patriarch;  familiar, knowledgable and firm. Protecting us from danger and bringing news of safety.

Every year a community near me is completely destroyed. This year, there have been several but the big story was Joplin, Missouri. It’s almost like a sacred and horrible ritual we’ve all been through countless times. Watching the images of devastation roll into our living rooms, the shock and grief, the powerlessness, and then the outpouring of support and charity. We all breath a sigh of relief it wasn’t us, and live with the knowledge that next time it might be. The difference in this ritual these days is that everyone has cell phones and much of the experience is now caught on video.

Last night and today, as the ritual continued into my children’s generation, I watched in fascination as one particular clip struck me to the core. When the tornado hit, several people found themselves trapped in a convenience store and took shelter in a cooler. Of course someone switched on their cell phone. All was black but you could hear every word that was uttered underneath the roar of the tornado that destroyed everything around them. One young man could be heard telling his friends he loved them, another man kept uttering, “we’re going to make it, we’re going to be ok.” You could hear what sounded like young children screaming. And throughout it all, a woman chanting, “Jesus, Jesus. Heavenly father. Jesus, Jesus.” Over and over again.

While I’m not a huge fan of religion these days and I have plenty of criticisms of the institution, I cannot deny the role it plays in people’s lives. It is a comfort to so many. And while I don’t believe Jesus saved that woman yesterday, she very well might believe this.  And one thing is almost certain, in her reality Jesus absolutely got her through those couple of minutes that must have been the most terrifying of her life.

We really are such frail creatures and life is so tenuous. Is it any wonder we reach for God when we are desperate, when catastrophe rips through the sky above us, black and deafening.

Even if I could get rid of religion, I couldn’t bear to take it away from those who need it the most–other human beings just like myself.

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Poem of the Day

I love this poem. I love it the way I love my own skin. It’s like this poem belongs to me. I’m a woman who burns her bridges, leaving blazing fires in my wake. Sometimes, amidst the ashes, regrets are born.

BTW, I’m going camping for a few days and won’t have internet access.

Antilamentation

by Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by

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God, Satan, and Carl Jung

 “You are a slave of what you need in your soul.” The Red Book by Carl Jung

I’ve not believed in the idea of Satan, at least in the literal sense for quite some time now. I think Satan is an archetype of evil, a symbol of pure negativity, debauchery, and depravity. Even as a practicing Muslim, I could never fully accept the typical portrayal of Satan as some type of physical and tangible being, constantly whispering to us, an ornery little villain whose main aim is to lead us astray. This notion seems very childlike to me.

Indeed, Islamic thought does believe in the idea of Satan and the Quran is quite explicit in describing him. I don’t think Satan was ever meant to be taken figuratively and most believers don’t see him as thus. Instead, I’ve almost always viewed in him in very psychological terms. He is the epitome everything we view as bad in the world, and especially the evil deeds that take place at the hands of humankind.The waswas, a deep sense of tempation into what is typically thought to be immoral. These weaknesses are our downfall, as is the metaphor of the Garden of Eden.

Carl Jung describes a series archetypical images which pervade the human consciousness, manifesting themselves in art, religion, and myth. Jung viewed the source of the archetype as instinctual. We are born with an inate knowledge of various archetypes. These archetypes exist throughout humanity and throughout all times. A specific archetype may manifest itself in various forms, but with obvious similarities.

So naturally, this got me thinking, if Satan is the archetype of evil, then what does that make God? The natural inclination would be to view God and Satan in dualistic terms; God as the archetype of good, the yin to the yang. But then, I don’t necessarily view God as always being good, at least as he is described in the monotheistic scriptures. I suppose this might depend highly on one’s definition of good, but God is often portrayed as the bringer of hellfire and punishment, he is often described as being quite human in his emotions, a jealous and vengeant god.  Therefore, it might be viewed more as a relationship of tension, an epic battle for the soul, two enemies fighting it out at the expense of humanity. Perhaps a better metaphor would be one of chaos and order; Satan representing the perils of an ammoral society, and God representing order as defined by religious law.

So if Satan is only an archetype and not a physical being, then it might certainly be the case that God is as well.  Our descriptions God and Satan are the stuff of archetype and myth, and these concepts reflect ourselves more than anything.  I have often entertained thoughts of  leaping over the precipice of agnosticm, I do believe there is something to the universe. I’m just not sure we have been able to adequately describe it. Nor am I sure that such a description is possible.

Thoughts?

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Happy Cinco De Mayo!

 Here in my house, I take any little reason to cook international cuisine and really make a spectacle of it. Of course, here in America at least, Cinco de Mayo isn’t any little reason, it’s practically become a national holiday. For those of you not from norteamericano, Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is an important day in Mexican history. I’d always thought it was the Mexican indpendence day, but according to Wiki, that’s not quite the case. No mind, here in America, it’s become an excuse to party and drink and is nationally known because 1. We have a large Mexican population  2. Gringos really like Mexican food and especially margaritas, and 3. It’s just plain fun.

In my own city, there are celebrations held at various venues, which invariably involve people drinking too much tequila and making subsequent inquestionably bad choices, but I prefer to just have a little delicious celebration of my own.

Since I’m working tonight, I decided to cook up las comidas last night.

  I do my carne asada taco truck style. You can also do this with chicken but then, of course, it will be called pollo asada. I don’t really have an official recipe. There are a ton out there if you are a “recipe” person, or if you’ve never made them before. I basically do this:

Step 1:

Get some decent quality meat, chuck or round and cut it up into really small pieces. You could get really fancy and use flank or skirt steak, but like I said, I like to do mine up taco truck style, which ain’t fancy–just delicious. Sometimes you can find the meat already cut, especially for carne asada, especially if you live in a place with a large Mexican population.

Marinate the meat in some spices. I use garlic, onion, cumin, chile powder, salt and peper. Add a little lime juice and maybe some olive oil. You can marinate as long as you want, but since I’m usually not very organized, I just usually let it sit for 30 minutes or so. Saute it all over medium high heat until cooked through. I break out my cast iron for this one, because  it browns the meat and gives it a nice grilled flavor. Towards the end, add in a juice of a lime. Adjust your seasonings to taste.

Step 2:

Assemble the tacos. I use corn tortillas, and I like to double them up, which is how I’ve seen it done in the authentic places. Make sure to steam your tortillas first, in the microwave with a wet paper towel. This is the best way I’ve found to warm them. Supposedly, if you have really fresh tortillas, you can get away with just warming them, but mine have always turned out to be a dry mess unless I steam them.

Add your meat and toppings. For the toppings, I prefer chopped cabbage over lettuce, which is the more authentic way of serving. Also, I must have some fresh avacodo and cilantro.  Maybe add some onion. It’s up to you. Top the whole thing with a salsa of your choice. I usually like to use homeade pico de gallo, but I was feeling lazy, so I used a jarred brand. I like Herdez, it just tastes fresher than the other brands that I’ve tried, but use what you like. Oh yeah, at the end, feel free to squeeze a bit of lime over the final product.

For my cocktail, I made mojitos! Ok, so mojitos are technically Cuban and I suppose the true cinco de mayo tradition would call for margaritas. But I’ve been dying to try the Mojitos and hey, I’m American, so it’s okay to totally mix up two totally different and independent Latino cultures, right?

 

I used this recipe, from Rufus‘ site, which I really enjoy btw. I muddled and added club soda. I also made one of mine sugar free using a mix of splenda and liquid Sweet n low. Really, the sugar free was almost just as good, if you’re watching your calories. I also made the kids a virgin version (say that ten times over) and they loved it.s, so you could do that if you don’t drink alcohol.  Either way, the mojito was just as promised: cool and refreshing.

 So there you have it. Eat, drink, and be merry…ole, ole, ole (I have no idea what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s Spanish).

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