The Virtue Of Honour In Arabian Culture

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A picture depicting Imru-al Qays 

My forthcoming book talks about this in way more detail, so I’ll just post very briefly on the subject of honour in Arabian culture. If any of my readers here have Muslim friends, and you have visited their homes or mosques, you’d most probably have noticed just how amazingly hospitable they are. I remember the first Mosque I ever visited, when I was a student of Arabic and Islamic studies, and upon meeting the congregation, a few of them rushed to the kitchen area and bought out a pile of food and soft drinks. They would not even let me peel the skin from my orange, they had to do it for me. It was a very humbling experience. I was a guest in their Holy building, and because I was a guest I was treated with the uppermost importance (I was actually rather embarrassed to be honest). Now Muslims are commanded in the Qur’an to treat their guests with the greatest of importance, but this virtue originally comes from the Bedouin Arabic culture that Muhammad came from. Not a lot of people in the West actually know much about Arabic culture, apart from maybe some of their literature like the “One Thousand and One Nights” for example, but Arabic culture is absolutely fascinating.

Honour is an important Arabic virtue. It’s also an extremely important Islamic virtue. (Bedouin) Arabs still to this day relate the story of a Jewish Arab, who lived in the 6th Century AD., named al-Samawal, who owned a castle north of the agricultural oasis of Yathrib (modern day Medina). According to this story, the great poet Imru al-Qays took refuge with al-samawal while fleeing towards Syria from some of his many enemies. When he continued on his journey, he left five coats of mail, heirlooms of his family, with his host for safekeeping, intending to pick them up again on his return. But he never came back, for he died on the way home from an audience with the Emperor in Constantinople. In the meantime the enemies of Imru al-Qays besieged al-Samawal in his fortified dwelling, demanding that he surrender the costs of mail he had promised to preserve for the poet. This he would not do. And when the besiegers captured his son, who had gone out of the castle to hunt, and threatened to kill him if his father did not yield up the armour, al-Samawal responded that they must do as they saw fit, for he could not in honour renege his obligation to his guest, Imru al-Qays. At that, the enemies outside slew the boy. They gave up the siege after that, as al-Samawal would still not give up Imru al-Qays possessions.

Arabs are some of the most hospitable peoples on the earth, and they still hold stories like this, from their history as sacred. I have loved every minute of getting to know many. These are some of the virtues of true Islam.

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The Deseret Alphabet

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The Deseret Alphabet

What is the Deseret Alphabet?  

Origin 

The Deseret alphabet was devised as an alternative to the Latin alphabet for writing the English language, to help foreigners learn how to read English easier. It was developed during the 1850s at the University of Deseret, now the University of Utah, and was promoted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under Church President Brigham Young (1801-1877).

The name Deseret is taken from a word in the Book of Mormon and means “honeybee”. It reflects the Latter-day Saint use of the beehive as a symbol of co-operative industry.

Brigham Young’s secretary, George D. Watt, was among the designers of the Deseret alphabet and is thought to have used the Pitman English Phonotypic Alphabet of 1847 as the model.

The LDS Church commissioned two typefaces and published four books using the Deseret alphabet. The Church-owned Deseret News also published passages of scripture using the alphabet on occasion. In addition, some historical records, diaries, and other materials were hand-written using this script, and it had limited use on coins and signs. There is also one tombstone in Cedar City, Utah, written in the Deseret alphabet. However, the alphabet failed to gain wide acceptance and was not actively promoted after 1869.

Today, the Deseret alphabet remains of interest primarily to historians and hobbyists. It is also the official alphabet of the fictional (but actual) Republic of Molossia (which is a claimed micronation in the United States, founded by Kevin Baugh and is located near Nevada).

Please visit this website to see Brigham Young’s Deseret Alphabet:

http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/deseretalphabet.htm

 

A brief history of Simon Bar Kokhba and his Jewish revolt against Rome

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Simon Bar Kokhba on the Knesset Menorah

Simon Bar Kokhba is synonymous with tragedy. His surname “Bar Kokhba” means “son of a star,” and refers to the passage in Numbers 24 which speaks of a “star shooting out of Jacob.” Rabbi Akiva, a contemporary of Bar Kokhba, gave him this name, which has Messianic undertones. Indeed, following the destruction of the Temple, the stripping of Jewish autonomy, and the exile of Jews from Jerusalem, the hope that Bar Kokhba raised with his brief success and leadership led many to believe that the Messianic age had begun.

Christians, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, rejected Bar Kokhba. This led to further schisms between Jews and early Christians, helping mold the Christian identity as one separate from Judaism.

After the devastation and destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and the crushing of the earlier Jewish revolts, Jewish life in Israel was decimated, and Jewish sovereignty over. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerusalem, and pledged to rebuild the city and the Temple. However, his motivation was to make a new Roman city and a temple dedicated to pagan gods. When the Romans began to plough up the foundations of the Temple, tensions grew, and when he outlawed religious practices that were fundamental to the Jewish faith, such as circumcision (which the Hellenists viewed as mutilation), the Jews rebelled, the third such rebellion (or: Jewish-Roman Wars) since the destruction of the Temple. And the last.

The revolution, inspired in part by the Hasmonean Dynasty, was initially successful. Practicing guerilla warfare, the Jewish forces recaptured many towns and villages, including Jerusalem. The Romans were taken by surprise, and attempts to suppress the rebellion failed. Coins were minted with the phrase “The Freedom of Israel.” Animal sacrifices were resumed, though not at the Temple; Rabbi Akiva led the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), and Bar Kokhba established himself as Nasi (prince.)

However, in the year 135, the Romans were finally able to succeed in breaking the rebellion, and they did so brutally. They laid siege to the cities until the Jewish forces were weakened by lack of food, and then began the attack in earnest. The Jews fled to their stronghold, in Betar, but were attacked there as well, the final blow occurring on Tisha b’Av, the national day of Jewish mourning. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, and Hadrian attempted to wipe out any indication that a Jewish presence ever existed in the land. Scholars, including Rabbi Akiva, were persecuted and killed; texts were burned. Hadrian erected statues in the Temple, and replaced the name “Judea” on maps with the name “Syria Palaestina,” from which the modern name “Palestine” is derived. He also reinstituted the name “Aelia Capitolina” as the capital of the new Roman city. Jews were banned from even entering the holy city.

Later, Constantine I allowed the Jews to enter Jerusalem once a year, on Tisha B’Av, in order to mourn. The revolt had significant impact on Judaism. Jewish “Messianism” became a study in the abstract only and the center of Jewish learning moved to the Diaspora. However, a Jewish presence remained in the Holy Land. The Jews mostly migrated to the north to Safed and Tiberias. Safed became known as an important Torah center, especially for the study of Kabbalah. Important Jewish texts were completed in Israel, including the Mishnah and the Jerusalem Talmud. In modern Israeli history, the Bar Kokhba revolt became a symbol of national resistance. The Jewish youth group “Betar” took its name from Bar Kokhba’s final stronghold, and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, adopted the name of one of Bar Kokhba’s generals.

An introduction to Islam for Latter-day Saints

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Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophets Mosque) located in Medina, Saudi Arabia

This latest blog is written for a Latter-day Saint audience, who want to better understand the Abrahamic religion of Islam. I have written it in an easy to read question and answer format.

Which God do Muslims worship? 

Muslims believe that the Holy Bible is true, but they believe that some verses have had things added, and taken away. Muslims believe the same thing about the Bible as Latter-day Saints do. Muslims as well as Latter-day Saints worship Allah (Elohim in Hebrew), as being the one and only true God of Abraham. Some Muslims also refer to Allah as Father, or Heavenly Father.

Did Muslims change the story of Abraham willing to sacrificing his son Isaac, to it actually being Ishamael instead?

The answer is no. The Qur’an actually never names the son that Abraham placed  on the alter and was willing to sacrifice for God. Although some Muslims believe, and teach as doctrine that it was Ishmael that Abraham was going to sacrifice, but that’s only their opinion as no where in Islamic scripture does it state it was Ishmael. In the Qur’an Isaac is regarded as one of the holiest men to ever live on the earth, so he could also have very well been the son that Abraham was willing to sacrifice in the Qur’anic version.

What does the word Islam mean? 

The Arabic word islam means “submission.” It derives from the same Semitic root (s-l-m) that gives us the words for “peace” in Hebrew (shalom) and in Arabic (salaam). The model of islam is the prophet Abraham, and Muslims claim that Abraham submitted his will perfectly to the will of Gods.

What does the word Muslim mean? 

The word Muslim is used for the people who follow the religion of Islam. The word Muslim bears the same relation to Islam that Christian bears to Christianity, or Mormon to Mormonism. The first part of the word Muslim is a term for the believer; the second part refers to the doctrine or movement itself (s-l-m).

How do you pronounce the words Islam and Muslim correctly? 

The Arabic word Islam is Pronounced with the hissing s of this rather than with the z sound of these, and with the emphasis on the second syllable: Iss-LAAM.

The Arabic word Muslim is pronounced something like MUSS-lim. With the s pronounced the same as the s in Iss-LAAM.

What are the Jinn that are found in Islamic doctrine? Are they the Islamic version of Satan and those who rebelled who were kicked out of heaven, to the earth with no bodies? 

According to Islamic doctrine, the Jinn (which means “unseen” in Arabic) are beings that were created by God out of a smokeless fire. The Jinn are actually just below the Angels, and cannot be seen by mortal eyes. They are living on earth with us, and they can be good or evil. Some Jinn are Christians, some are Hindu, some are Muslim etc. some Jinns however follow Satan and his fallen angels, so Muslims are commanded not to try and make contact with the Jinn by any means. God favours human beings over all other creatures according to Islamic doctrine, that’s why he sends his angels to look over and protect humans.

Is the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) similar to the Latter-Day Saint Temple ordnance’s? 

Muslims and LDS both believe in ritual cleansing, washing and anointing before making sacred covenants with God. The Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca is a primitive version of the temple endowment and the initiatory. Many Scholars believe that th Hajj is the Ishmaelite version of the Israelite or Jewish Temple ordnance/s.

Is it true that both Mormons and Muslims both share the same doctrine on fasting? 

Yes. Muslims and LDS both believe in praying and fasting. Fasting will help you draw closer to God. Muslims are also encouraged to give the money of the meals they missed through fasting to charity.

Who is Jesus Christ to Muslims? 

Muslims and LDS both believe in the Virgin birth and miracles of Jesus. Both Muslims and LDS regard Mary as one of, or if not thee greatest women who ever lived.

Muslims and LDS both believe that Jesus was the greatest of all Prophets. Although Muslims believe that Jesus was taken directly to heaven by Elohim, and not crucified, they still believe that he suffered in Gethsemane and even though he was in agony he still prostrated and gave thanks to Allah. There is actually evidence to support that the Qur’an did once contain the crucifixion story, but it was changed after other copies were burnt in 667 AD, around 30 years after the original was compiled. The original was actually guarded vigorously by Muhammads wife Hafsah, but when she passed away the Islamic/Arabic political leader Uthman burnt it, even though Hafsah always refused to give it up for burning.

Do Muslims believe in God given free agency? 

Muslims and LDS both believe that the greatest gift God has given us is intelligence and free agency. There is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:256).

I will write another blog on Understanding Islam for Latter-day Saints in the next week or so.

 

 

A Latter-day Saint take on the legend of Lilith

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A painting depicting Adam and Eve kneeling at an Altar

I recently received a message from a fellow Latter-day Saint friend, who wanted to know if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a stance on Adams first wife Lilith, and if indeed the legends of her are true. I have answered his question in greater detail in this blog post.

Indeed there has been a legendary figure named Lilith. She first appears in a document called The Alphabet of Ben Sira, that appeared sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries AD. This document is a scurrilous account of some of the biblical characters. Lilith is portrayed as being Adam’s first wife. Hugh Nibley describes the account of Lilith as follows—
“According to the Hebrew tradition, which is very early and very widely testified, he [Adam] had a wife at this time, and she was Lilith. She represents promiscuity. She didn’t like Adam. She did everything she could to keep him from entering into the covenant and marrying in the covenant. Eve wasn’t around then. Her name means “night,” Layla. Way back in the Alphabet of Rabbi Aqiba, a very early writing, we are told about her. She was his mate, but she stands for everything that is promiscuous. She doesn’t want to get married, but she wants to play around; that’s Lilith. Adam was living in an animal state of innocence. He had become as a little child. I guess he would be a pushover for Lilith. But she is a sinister character because she is irresponsible. She is married to him and she has children, but she doesn’t want to be responsible for them, or anything like that. She is regarded as the woman who tries to do everything she can to prevent marriage, to prevent childbirth, and to kill babies in their cribs. That’s Lilith. There are all sorts of early charms from Babylon and elsewhere against Lilith to keep her from her shenanigans. She’s a rather important figure. She represents the sort of sexual license we have in the world today-the anything goes, just have fun” (Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, edited by Robert Smith and Robert Smythe, p.13).
The word, Lilith, comes from the Hebrew for the word “owl” in Isaiah 34:14. That chapter addresses the time of the Lord’s vengeance, as stated in verse 8—
For it is the day of the LORD’S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
In verses 12 through 15, the word “owl” is mentioned three times. Each time it is translated from a different Hebrew term, as follows—
12 They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.

13 And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls (yanshuwph 1).

14 The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl (liyliyth 2) also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.

15 There shall the great owl (qippowz 3) make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.
1. yanshuwph– great owl, eared owl, an unclean animal
2. liyliyith– Lilith “?”, name of a female goddess known as a night demon who haunts the desolate places of Edom
3. qippowz– arrow snake, owl
History is full of the legends of mythical figures which have been invented to satisfy apparent need. Greek lore is full of such mythical figures. They mostly represent various deities and other figures that provided rationale for the otherwise unexplained mysteries of life. Such mythical figures have extended into our own day, including such figures as Pan, Cupid, Santa Claus, the Boogy Man, etc. Lilith is just such a figure from Hebrew lore.

Similarities between Islamic scripture and Latter-day Saint scripture

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The Holy Standard Latter-day Saint works, and The Holy Qur’an

This is part five of my series on the similarities between the three great Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

This blog post however will most likely be more of an interest for my fellow Latter-day Saint readers, but it could be of benefit to my readers who like to study comparative religion.

As many of you well know, Islam and Mormonism are very similar in many different ways, but just how similar are their scriptures?

The main books that are regarded as scripture in Islam are, The Qur’an, the Ahadith (1), and the Holy Bible (New and Old Testaments) as far as it has been translated correctly. The main Latter-day Saint scriptures are The Holy Bible (New and Old Testaments) as far as it has been translated correctly, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, and Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage (2).

If we put all the books that Muslims consider Holy scripture, and all the books that Latter-day Saints consider Holy Scripture on a table, and compare them all, you will find that the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants hold the most similarities.

Why are the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants similar?

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the literal voice of God, that’s why it’s called the Qur’an, which means “Recitation” in English. Muslims believe that when you read the Qur’an out loud in its original Arabic, you are literally reciting the words of God. Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed directly to the Prophet Muhammad from God, through visions, Dreams and Angelic visitations. The Qur’an, much like the Doctrine and Covenants, is the only book in Islamic scripture that is God speaking directly. The Doctrine and Covenants are exactly the same, as they’re the only Latter-day Scriptures which are literally the words directly from Jesus Christ.

Muslims also believe the Bible to be correct as far as it is translated correctly, but they believe as well as Latter-day Saints that plain and precious truths were taken out of the Bible by the wickedness of man. So can we compare the Book of Mormon to Islamic scripture also? Yes somewhat. The Book of Mormon was written by many Prophets for our time and kept safe by God for centuries until our current day, the final dispensation. Muslims also believe we are in the final dispensation and are also awaiting the second coming of Jesus Christ, but they believe their scriptures were revealed directly to Muhammad, not written in the past. Muslims claim the Qur’an to be the most correct book on earth, and Latter-day Saints claim the same thing regarding The Book of Mormon.

Latter-day Saints believe that the plain and precious truths that were removed from the Bible, have been restored, some through the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, but mainly they have been restored in the Pearl of Great Price. Muslims believe that the plain and precious truths have been restored in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is essentially a commentary on the Bible.

We can also compare the Ahadith and the New Testament as being very similar. Muslims believe that the Ahadith (which is the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) are scripture, but like the New Testament, was written by man, so the Ahadith could have had things added and taken away. It’s important to note that the Shi’a Muslims have a slightly different Ahadith collection, and they hold the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and his direct descendants).

I have only written a very basic overview on the similarities between Islamic and Latter-day Saint scriptures, but I will write a more comprehensive blog post in the coming few weeks. I also go deeper into Islamic scriptures in my book, that is still currently in the works.

My next blog post will be on how similar the Doctrine is in Islam and Mormonism. I’m looking forward to writing that blog.

1) Ahadith is the plural of Hadith in Arabic.

2) Although not part of the Standard Works, Jesus the Christ is regarded as Scripture.

A brief overview of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches

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A portrait of John Calvin

Presbyterian and Reformed churches both trace their heritage back to the 16th century C.E. and the reformer John Calvin. Calvin’s writings formed much of what is still the basis of both Presbyterian and Reformed religious thought. Calvin did most of his writing from Geneva, Switzerland, and from there the Reformed movement spread throughout Europe. The Presbyterian Church traces much of its history from England and Scotland, where John Knox brought Reformed thinking. Presbyterian and Reformed Churches maintain much of the basic Protestant doctrine, but are distinct for their adherence to Reformed theology and their unique structure of church government, which stresses leadership representation by both church congregants and ministers. Presbyterians get their name from this presbyterian form of structure, which grants authority to elected lay leadership. These lay leaders, called elders or presbyters, partner with ordained ministers to govern congregations. In this, Reformed traditions have two forms of governance: Presbyterian polity (rule by ordained assemblies) and Congregationalist polity (rule by leaders within the congregation). Reformed theology stresses the majesty and holiness of God expressed as love through the creation and redemption of the world. This is related to the Reformed theology of election (also called predestination), which claims that God elects the people of God for salvation. Reformed doctrine also places high authority on scripture as the primary source of instruction regarding faith and practice. Presbyterian and Reformed churches have both gone through numerous periods of splits and reunifications, and have spread throughout the world primarily through missionary activity and migration.

QUICK FACTS 

Formed 1529
Adherents 75,000,000
Deity Christian God
Sacred Text The Bible (Protestant Canon)
Origin Switzerland
Headquarters Louisville, KY USA (Presbyterian USA)