The Wrath of Allah: dissing a she-camel

Is this a Koranic Lorica?

[Image: detail of St. Patrick’s Lorica by Catanea–see below]*

For some time I have been pondering the proper Koran verse to put above my door, as they do in Jordan. I ran across a collection of selected suras that includes this one, Sura 91 Shams–The Sun:

1. By the sun in his glorious splendour;
2. By the moon as she follows him;
3. By the day as it shows up (the sun’s) glory;
4. By the night as it conceals it;
5. By the firmament and its wonderful structure;
6. By the earth and its (wide) expanse;
7. By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it;
8. And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;
9. Truly he succeeds that purifies it,
10. And he fails that corrupts it!
11. The Thamud (people) rejected (their prophet) through their inordinate wrongdoing.
12. Behold the most wicked man among them was deputed (for impiety).
13. But the apostle of Allah said to them: “It is a she-camel of Allah! and (bar her not from) having her drink!”
14. Then they rejected him, and they hamstrung her. So their Lord on account of their crime, obliterated their traces and made them equal (in destruction, high and low)!
15. And for Him is no fear of its consequences.

[source]

This sounds awfully familiar. I do believe it’s similar to the Lorica, or Rune of St. Patrick.

At Tara in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness —
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

Here is the meaning of the Koranic verse:

The apostle of Allah is Saleh, prophet to the arrogant and greedy people of the Thamud, who demanded a miracle from Allah. They were given a she-camel for sustenance and told to provide it with pasture, which is also a free gift from Allah.

This she-camel of Allah is a Sign unto you: So leave her to graze in Allah’s earth, and let her come to no harm, or ye shall be seized with a grievous punishment. -Koran 7:73

Instead they cruelly killed the camel. Given three days to repent, they did not, and on the third night there was a blast in the sky and an earthquake, and they were buried in their homes. The site of this city is thought to be Mada’in Saleh in present day Saudi Arabia, a city contemporary with the Nabatean city of Petra in Jordan.

Here is a transliterated version of the Koranic verse:

1. Wash shamsi wa duhaahaa
2. Wal qamari idzaa talaahaa
3. Wan nahaari idzaa jallaahaa
4. Wal layli idzaa yaguhshaahaa
5. Was samaa’i wa maa banaahaa
6. Wal ardi wa maa tahaahaa
7. Wa nafsin wa maa sawwaahaa
8. Fa’alhamahaa fujuurahaa wataqwaahaa
9. Qa d aflaha man zakkaahaa
10. Wa qad khaaba man dassaahaa
11. Kadzdzabat thamuudu bitagh waahaa
12. idzin ba’atha ashqaahaa
13. faqaala lahum rasuulullaahi naaqatallaahi wa suqyaahaa
14. Fakadzdzabuuhu fa’aqaruuhaa fadamdama ‘alayhim Rabbuhum bidzanbihim fasawwaahaa
15. Wa laa yakhaafu ‘uqbaahaa

And here is a YouTube recitation of sura 91 As-Shams by Mishary Al-Afasy.

*Image: (click to embiggen) detail from Lorica of Patrick by Catanea. Original text with XII Century Irish script and Latin gloss.  About  530 x 210 mm on  (kosher) cow or more likely bull calf vellum.  Ink is ferro-gallic, some pigments dug out of the earth (in Soria, Tereul and Olleros de Paredes Rubias [Palencia]), and some bought (vermilion), written with swan quills and painted with brushes. (Catanea, I hope this is all okay.)

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Banned in Riyadh

Last week I saw a copy of Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh at the local thrift shop and couldn’t resist. I read the first five chapters at one sitting, and was reminded again of one of the things I like least about the Arab culture–what one American described as the bubblegum aspect–a sort of lack of depth or focus on superficialities.  (By way of illustration, as I recall, the administrators of a program I knew of in Jordan were called Gucci and Channel behind their backs.) But Alsanea tells the stories engagingly and you are very quickly swept into her world, and believe you have met her characters somewhere before–perhaps on the Majoob forums.

Today I was googling something completely different and was gratified to find out the book had been banned in Riyadh. It was later unbanned, but no matter, so was Huckleberry Finn.  I love to read banned books.

In an interview Rajaa Alsanea talked about her book:

“There was always a gap between intellectuals and readers, whether it was due to the very sophisticated language used in the books or the fact that young people in Saudi preferred to read blogs. The more sophisticated you sound, the more intellectual you were. That was the attitude. Also novels written in Saudi were mostly written by older male authors.

“I was criticised for using Saudi dialect in the novel but I did that on purpose as I didn’t have that urge to be distant from my readers. I wanted to write a novel that I saw myself in as a young girl in Saudi Arabia. I was also criticised for the title that was very general, but I wanted something that describes many of the different types of women I see on a daily basis in my country.”

People often ask her which one of the four girls, five if you count the narrator, represents herself. They also want to know if she is still friends with the others.

“Actually, there were no girlfriends in real life. It’s all fiction. The stories do happen. These were more than four characters. The stories were gathered from 50 or 100 girls in Saudi. I did put parts of my personality in each one of them and I do relate with the stories that I wrote about. Most girls in Saudi relate to one or other of them. The book is not about a personal experience – it’s about a generation’s experiences.”

The book was originally published in Lebanon, in Arabic as Banat Al-Riyadh. According to the author’s note in the front of the book, “In my Arabic version of the novel I interspersed the classical Arabic with languages that reflects the mongrel Arabic of the modern world–there was Saudi dialect (several of them), and Lebanese-Arabic, English-Arabic and more.”
The interview is no longer available online and can only be accessed by google cache.  The interview in its entirety is below the fold.

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Qateyef

Why would someone deny themselves food and water during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan, one might ask?  One word.  Qateyef. (pronounced something like (guh-TAH-yuf). When Ramadan starts, these qateyef grills spring up like mushrooms all over Jordan. Here is the shop of Abu Ali, the best qateyef maker in all of Amman, and the line waiting for his qateyef that stretches five floors down a stone staircase.

1abualicooks

1abualiline

And here is how to make them.

Buy a package of freshly made qadeyef at your local Arab store (the mosques ladies make them at home with Aunt Jemima pancake mix).

1qadayef

Put your favorite filling–okay, “favourite”– on half of the qateyef.  Fold it over and pinch the edges together (they are a little bit sticky). On the left is cheese “mostly ricotta” mixed by the bakery (but with a little extra sweet and salt flavor) and on the right is chopped walnuts.

2cheese and walnut

At this point, some Jordanian cooks will float the qateyef briefly in a boiling attar bath.  I don’t do this because 1) they come out too sweet and 2) I can’t keep them from falling apart in the pot.  So I heated these in a pan in the toaster oven. Here is the attar that will get poured over them:

3attar

The ingredients are sugar, water, orange flower water, and lemon juice. I guessed at the proportions and it came out perfectly.  Put the warm qateyef on a plate and drench them with the attar. Then enjoy.  Many like to smoke an after iftar argila. This one has apple flavored tobacco (tufaa تفاحة ). The tobacco goes in the top, covered with aluminum foil with holes poked in it.  A glowing piece of charcoal is placed on the top.  In the U.S., argila charcoal is hard to come by, so many use self lighting charcoal that comes in commercially prepared rolls wrapped in aluminum foil.  All you do is remove one perfectly round piece of charcoal, hold it over a lighter or a burner until it is glowing, then put it on top of the aluminum foil.

4qadayef with argila

I am still missing a couple details for Ramadan.  For one thing I haven’t done any charitable works yet, so I will have to start sorting my clothes and find something to donate. The other thing is that one-thirtieth of the Koran is usually read every day, but it is done in a special mosque service called taraweh. The mosque is really too far away to participate in that–on a regular basis at least–so I may have to find a substitute reading activity. Already I have some ideas.

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Iftar

Iftar إفطار means “breakfast” in Arabic (pronounced “IF-tar”).

During Ramadan, when the sun sets, it is traditional to break the fast with dates and water. (From sunup to sundown, one abstains from food, water, sex, and tobacco.) Then comes iftar–the evening “breakfast”–often served to large crowds as part of the daily charity requirement of Ramadan.

Here is a traditional Arab meal: pita bread “hobez” خبز , felafel فلافل , hommous حمّص‎ (with olive oil–zait zaytoon زيت زيتون and sumac السماق , a red powder–sprinkled on top), and black tea with fresh mint (shai na-na شاي بالنعناع ), the mint having been pilfered from my nicely spreading Jordanian mint plant (thank you, nameless mosque ladies) the last time I went across the street to my old landlord’s building to mow the lawn.
iftar

There will be desert حلويات heluwayat, oh yeah.

Ramadan Kareem moon

I have finally gotten around to making a Ramadan Kareem image for my side bar.  This image of the moon is courtesy of NASA.ramadan kareem

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Bedouin Coffee

bedouin coffee1bedouin coffee2bedouin coffee3bedouin coffee4bedouin coffee5The best coffee in the world is bedouin coffee ground with cardamom. You can still get it custom ground in Arabic grocery shops, but today I used the commercial Najjar brand to make it.

While this may be the best tasting coffee there is, the effects may not always be desirable. The coffee itself is a fine powder similar to espresso, and with similar effects.

I always find myself unable to sleep after drinking this coffee, which for some reason always happens late at night while having a spirited conversation with some Arab who is trying to learn English.

Paradoxically, today I drank the coffee early in the morning and found myself lying down for “just a minute”–and waking up three hours later.

Drink this coffee at your own peril!

Here are the instructions:

Start with cold water.
Put in a heaping spoon of coffee.
Then add an equal amount of sugar.
Stir. (The quantities shown are a bit skimpy.)
Boil. You have to keep watching this as it will boil over very quickly. Once it starts boiling, keep stirring it and continue to boil for a couple minutes. You will have to lift it off the flame and keep stirring.
Let it sit a few minutes to let the sludge settle to the bottom.
Pour it out into a finjon. An espresso cup will work fine.
Let settle again and enjoy.

A corollary activity is reading the coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup, but since Ramadan begins tomorrow, I hesitate to discuss this in depth.

Obey the loaves

This morning starts out with a series of disjointed religious observations about reconciliation.

Order of Worship.

The very format of a Christian service incorporates reconciliation in the order of worship, although there is some variation in the interpretation.  One contemporary writer places “confession and reconciliation”  together after the “approach”.  The order is

1. APPROACH (music, welcome, invocation, hymn, Old Testament reading)
2. LITANY OF CONFESSION AND RECONCILIATION (and Lord’s Prayer)
3. COMMUNITY: RELATING TO EACH OTHER (prayers)
4. LISTENING TO THE WORD (Old and New Testament readings, hymn, sermon)
5. RESPONSE (hymn, prayer)
6. COMMUNION (distribution of bread and wine, hymn)
7. COMMISSION [Dedication to commitment and service for week ahead, benediction, music recessional]

In case anyone is not sure about the “sins”, they are spelled out:

For the greed which exploits others and wastes the good earth…
For wanting more and more while so many have less and less…
For our indifference to the suffering of the poor: the hungry, the homeless, the tortured and the oppressed…
For the lust which misuses others for our own selfish desires…
For the pride which leads us to trust too much in ourselves and not in You…

It is these sins, or perhaps merely being in the physical world instead of the spiritual one, or perhaps just not having been able to resolve all the social problems and issues of our day, that distances us from God. The ritual acknowledges the distance, and brushes off the dust of whatever ugliness we’ve encountered during the week for the purpose of putting aside barriers to spiritual closeness with God.

Another writer places confession of sins further on in the order as part of the conversation with God and as a response to hearing the words of God:

Consider the flow of our worship: gathering; hearing God’s Word; responding to God’s Word by an expression of faith and confession of sin; making our offering to God and lifting up our prayers of Thanksgiving.

I could quarrel with all those semicolons and especially with the omission of the Harvard comma, but this particular writer’s historical musings are an interesting tangent.

Communion.

I suppose this is the ultimate reconciliation with God; killing God, tearing apart God’s flesh, eating God, and drinking God’s blood to achieve a numinous merging with the deity.  The Biblical basis for communion is in John 6:56 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him”.

Islam.

This means submission to God. The Islamic worship of God is simple.  A call to prayer, several repetitions of postures (called “rahkans”) including leaning at a 90 degree angle with hands on knees, on hands knees with forehead touching the ground, and standing, either looking at the palms of the hands or with one hand over the other. But what is the God being submitted to?  A God you can carry in your stomach in the form of bread? I admit I don’t know all the Islamic conceptions of God, but for sure the Moslem god, like the Jewish god,  is one who sends rules, lots of them, and expects them to be obeyed, but at the same time is regarded as being merciful and compassionate. (most verses of Koran begin “bismallah al-rahman al-raheem, “in the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate.”)

Before the prayer is a washing ritual, each area being ritually washed three times.  There are areas in the mosque for ablutions, or some people do it at home beforehand.  The bedouin in the desert is also allowed to ritually wash with sand before praying.  It’s a physical religion and it’s impossible to miss the grounding symbolism of kneeling on the ground and touching the forehead to the earth. More subtle is the circle created by looking down and at the open palms of the hands that serves to short-circuit sensory inputs, quiet the crowd, and focus the worshiper.

Whatever the Islamic notion of the nature of God, one reaches harmony with God  by submission, by blind acceptance of dogma, by erasure of all individuality and critical thinking.

[Hmm, in the Christian example of the order of worship, the purification is an internal one, a questions of purity of heart.  In the Islamic example, purification is accomplished by external ritual washing, similar to the native American purification ritual of cleansing oneself externally by smudging with smoke then offering smoke to the four directions, sky, and earth. Does physical purification lead to spiritual purification–or are they even different? Ooops, pork.]

The image of submitting to communion bread in the stomach is irresistible.

So, give us this day our daily bread.  This is cinnamon bread.  I’ve never seen it before and it’s quite good.

cinnamon bread

Apparently the loaf has been sprinkled with cinnamon mixed with something sweet, folded over, and pinched shut before baking. I could smell the cinnamon in the bakery without opening the package. The shops in the Arab neighborhood are already stacked with cases and cases of dates in preparation for the start of Ramadan on Saturday.  I have mine and this year will probably fast at least one day of Ramadan.

So back to the religious background of reconciliation…

Contemporary theologians like to cite John 6:56 for the cannibalistic backstory of the communion ritual, but to me that’s like reading one entry in a thread without taking the whole context into account.  The context of ritual cannibalistic communion is none other than the story of the loaves and fishes.  After that miracle Jesus retreated, walking on water, to another area where the crowds eventually found him out.  Here is the rest of the story, told in the fusty 1901 translation of the American Standard Version:

25And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? 26Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled. 27Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father, even God, hath sealed. 28They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? 29Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. 30They said therefore unto him, What then doest thou for a sign, that we may see, and believe thee? what workest thou? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread out of heaven to eat. 32Jesus therefore said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, It was not Moses that gave you the bread out of heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread out of heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34They said therefore unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35Jesus said unto them. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

So, 1) the crowds were fed with the loaves and fishes miracle–that is, they had bread in their stomachs 2) then they searched for Jesus on account of the loaves and fishes. 3) Jesus gave them bread as a ritual, to satisfy them.  I’m sure the answer to the reconciliation problem is in here somewhere.  Or not.  Or, it just might be in the story of the Lightbringer whose fall from heaven is the result of his refusal to worship Adam (or was that James), the image of God. Instead of eating and/or submitting, maybe I should be getting ready to “march into hell for a heavenly cause.”

The planet Venus is the lightbringer, the first radiant beam that does away with the darkness of night. It is a symbol of the development of the divine light in man, for the first awakening of self-consciousness, for independent thinking and the real application of free will. It means the bringing of the light of compassionate understanding to the human mind.

At any rate, the bread does not satisfy, give me something more circular.

Palestinian style date bread

Note: This last photograph bothered my a lot and I almost changed it. The reason? I’m taking the photo with my right hand–the camera is very difficult to operate any other way, and that only leaves the left hand for breaking the bread. But it is also ingrained in me, for some reason, that bread must be taken with the right hand. Bread and water. They are both sacred. Money and tobacco can be accepted with either hand, and the bread is actually broken with both hands, but bread and water must be accepted with the right hand. When a child drops bread (or chips) on the floor, the adult says “haraam”–forbidden. it would be easy enough to use some utility to flip the photo right for left so it looks like the bread is being taken with the correct hand, but I’m leaving it as it is, as a reminder of the bedouin and Christian regard for bread as sacred and as a demonstration of the cognitive dissonance that can be set up when we don’t observe taboos.

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