Thursday, August 31, 2006

how the i ching "works"

I recently found a blog called Attempts, by Stephen Frug, which recently discussed the I Ching in a recent post called: Changes, The Book (Part Two) and shared the following interesting sentiments which are fairly close to my own understanding of the text:
The I Ching does not predict the future. All it does is give you something to chew on, stimulate your unconscious mind. There is absolutely no evidence that randomly throwing coins predicts future events. But reading selected passages from the book itself is quite good at shaking up your accustomed patterns of thought. And sometimes it can be eerily on point, in part because the reader brings his or her own unconscious thoughts and desires to the reading of a text that is by nature ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations.

The rest of the entry fleshes out and develops this idea, but the above is the core.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

alan moore and organized religion

Just the other day I was talking with someone about how it seems that nowadays a lot of graphic novels (i.e. fancy comic books) have been grappling with religious themes. (for example, look at The Sandman, Lucifer, or Hellblazer which formed the basis for the film Constantine). This is also evident in the work of acclaimed graphic novelist Alan Moore, a practicing Gnostic... and also author of the anarchist fable, V for Vendetta.)

The other day I was in my local comic book store and found a book about Moore which contained a pretty thought-provoking interview where he shares his thoughts on religion:

What I'm saying is that, to me, organised religion seems to be an accumulation of dead ritual, lifeless dogma; and largely fear-driven belief that has built up around some original kernel of genuine spiritual experience. From what I understand of the original Essenes, for example, they were Gnostics. That is to say, their spirituality was based not upon faith or belief but upon personal apprehension and knowledge, or gnosis, of the powers at work in the Universe. They didn't believe:

They knew. If there over was such a historical personage as Jesus Christ, and if this person did have a group of Apostles around him, they were not acting from belief either. Saul/Paul had the heavenly searchlight turned upon him during his day trip to Damascus. Pentecostal Fire danced on their tongues. Thomas... a pure-bred I'm-From-Missouri Gnostic if ever I heard of one... even put his hand in the wound of the resurrected messiah. Gnosis ... personal knowledge and experience of the spiritual I have no problem with.

What I do have a problem with is the middle management who have manouvered themselves between the wellspring and those who thirst in the field of spirituality just as efficiently as they've done it in every other field of human endeavour. It seems to me that when the blueprint for the modern Christian faith was first sketched out by the Emperor Constantine and his marketing department, it was constructed largely to solve a couple of immediate Earthly problems that Rome was faced with at the time. They had a city divided by different theological factions, the largest and noisiest probably being the early Christian zealots. Then there was the cult of *Mithras*, which was smaller but which included the bulk of the Roman Military. Finally there was the cult of Sol *Invictus*, the undefeated Sun, which was relatively small but very popular amongst the merchant class.

Constantine's posse came up with a composite religion to unite Rome: Christianity would incorporate large chunks of Mithraism, including the stuff about being born in a cave surrounded by shepherds and animals on the 25th of December, and would make concessions to the cult of Sol Invictus, the Undefeated Sun, by sticking a big Sun-symbol behind the messiah's head in all the publicity handouts. This is politics.

The effect in spiritual terms is to move the emphasis away from any genuine personal spiritual experience. Whereas for the original Gnostics such a personal knowledge of and direct communication with the Godhead was the cornerstone of their spiritual life, after the priesthood moved in the basic proposition was vastly different:

"You don't need to have had a transforming experience yourselves, and in fact neither do the priesthood need to have had a transforming experience. The important thing is that we have this book, about people� who lived a long time ago, and they had transforming experiences, and if you come along on Sunday we'll read to you about them, and that will be. your transforming experience." This sounds to me like a co-opting of the divine impulse a channeling of the individual's spiritual aspirations into a mechanism for social regulation.

So, no, I'm not a big fan of organised religion of any kind.

It's a lot to think about. On the one hand, I have an "inner Taliban" which is very much enamored by orthodoxy and tradition. On the other hand, another part of me is very sympathetic to Moore's point and is a spiritual "anarchist" of sorts. I feel that both tendancies are necessary and each serves as a corrective to the excesses of the other.

some previous entries which have touched on some related themes are:
the guru principle
carlos santana
protestant islam
muslim anarchism
not spiritual but religious
"'x-men' is not a cleverly named documentary about the nation of islam..."
anarchism, hollywood style

I think I'll stop here and elaborate a little more later...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

the day after

For a while now, I've been meaning to write something more about Anida Yoeu Eseguerra on Planet Grenada. I think she has an interesting perspective because she's a Muslim spoken word artist who deals with cultural/political issues but isn't ethnically "typical" for a Muslim in America. (She describes herself as a "non hyphenated Cambodian Muslim American woman"). Since she actually wrote me an e-mail a few days ago, I figure I will actually show some love and post one her poems. (Y'all should also check her website: where she has more poems, audio and visual files of other performances, booking info, etc.)

The Day After
A Cento based on Hate Crimes filed shortly after 9/11

Awoke to signs,
“Terrorists'' sprayed in red paint across their family's driveway,
“Terrorist on board'' written on their white car.
Awoke to find,
freeway sign says, "Kill all Arabs"
elevator sign says, "Kill all towel heads"

A Pakistani Muslim living in L.A.
awoke to find his car scratched across
the right side with the words “Nuke ‘em!”

Awoke to find
300 march on a mosque in Bridgeview, IL.
300 American flags shout "USA! USA!"
Mosque awoke to find a 19-year-old shouting
"I'm proud to be American, I hate Arabs and I always have."

Firebomb tossed,
Taxi driver pulled out and beaten,
Vandals in Collingswood, N.J. attacked two Indian-owned businesses.
Vandals spray-painted "leave town."

Awoke to find
a South Asian American,
Sikh, chased by a group of four men yelling "terrorist.”
Sikh mistaken as a Muslim American.

Back up.
Sikh man, 69, shot.
Body found in a canal
He had a turban on.
Turban mistaken as a Muslim American.

A vehicle of white males,
followed and harassed a 21-year-old female.
Attackers yelled, "Go back to your own country!"
The attackers’ car pinned her against another vehicle.
Then they backed up and ran over her again.
Kimberly—a 21-year-old
Back up. A 21-year-old full blood Creek
Back up. Full blood Creek Native American
Mistaken as a Muslim American

Awoke to find,
a Pakistani native beaten by three men.

Back up. Egyptian American, 48, killed point-blank
Back up. Sikh man, 49 shot.
Shooter shouted, "I stand for America all the way."

Back up.
A man pushing a baby stroller walked by a mosque
He stopped and started yelling,
"You Islamic mosquitoes should be killed."
Mosquitoes mistaken as Muslim Americans.

Awoke to find two women speaking Spanish in a doctor's office.
A Caucasian woman yells, "You foreigners caused all this trouble,"
and begins to beat one of the women.
Spanish mistaken as Muslim.

Back up.
She asks the woman if she is Arab,
And then punches her in the eye.

Awoke to be mistaken.
A woman wearing Muslim clothing was shopping.
A Caucasian woman began attacking her and yelled,
"America is only for white people."

Back up. America mistaken for white people.

Armed man sets fire to a Seattle mosque.
300 march on mosque in Bridgeview, IL.
Mosques in Carrollton, Denton and Irving, Texas, attacked.
Muslim student at Arizona State University attacked.
Afghan restaurant in Fremont attacked with bottles and rocks.
Two suspects wrote "die" on a Persian Club booth.

A gasoline bomb is thrown
through the window of a Sikh family's home,
hitting a 3-year-old on the head.

Two women at a bagel store, attacked
for wearing a Quranic charm around her neck.
Attacker lunges,
Yells, "Look what you people have done to my people"
No one in the store tried to help.
The owner apologized to the attackers for any inconvenience.

300 march on two women
No one tried to help.

Two women awoke to find
an explosion from a cherry bomb
outside the Islamic Center of San Diego.
San Diego mistaken for Muslim Americans
"Look what you people have done to my people."
300 march on mosque in Bridgeview, IL
No one tried to help.
Sign says, "Kill all Arabs."
Sign says, "Kill all towel heads."
Towels mistaken for Muslim Americans
No one tried to help.
Vandals attack.
No one tried to help.
He had a turban on.
No one tried to help.
Sign says, "Look what you people have done”
Flags wave in an Afghan restaurant.
300 march against Spanish spoken at a doctor’s office
Spanish mistaken for Muslim Americans
300 march on two women at a bagel store
Bagels mistaken for Muslim Americans
300 wave cherry bombs.
Bombs march on 300 Sikhs,
hitting a 3-year-old on the head.

Look what you people have done.

Monday, August 28, 2006

metamorphosis boricua

Just yesterday I was surprised to find a blog for the second spoken word artist I refered to in ignacio/ingrid rivera. The blog is called Metamorphosis Boricua and it is a very candid and visual record of one person's trans-formation from female-to-somethingelse.

First and last it should be said that changing genders is a radical decision and it is not likely that anyone would undertake such a process lightly or frivolously. But to be honest, I'm not sure how to properly understand or appreciate such a choice. (That's intended as an admission of ignorance, not a judgement.)

On the one hand, I can't help but have compassion for someone who feels so fundamentally out of place that they want to change bodies in order to be themselves.

On the other hand, in Islam there are various restrictions on certain kinds of body modifications and cosmetic procedures (e.g. tattoos, wigs, hairpieces, dying hair to look young, filing teeth etc.) to avoid vanity. And there is a general principle prohibiting "changing the creation of Allah" (taghyir khalq Allah). This restriction is certainly not absolute and I've never seen its limits precisely defined, but the principle suggests to me that we should be happy with our bodies as they are naturally and not mess with them too much without good reason.

What is "good reason"? That's not quite so clear.

In any case, there are both Sunni and Shia scholars who have given fatwas permitting sex-change operations if necessary.

See also:
the men will look like the women...
the grass is always greener...

innumerable sluts now available

Ok, for many years now I've heard the ISNA convention described as a "meat-market", but the cynicism has reached a new low when I recently heard someone joke that ISNA = "Innumerable Sluts Now Available". Damn.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

apuntes palestine

Check out: Apuntes Palestine a blog from Fernando Reals, a Boricua from New York writing about his experiences in Palestine.

Friday, August 25, 2006

amir sulaiman: the illusion

I've just been listening to a Amir Sulaiman CD today, and was especially impressed by the talk called "The Illusion" and felt like sharing it. I looked around online and found a blogger, Muntaka Shah, who was generous enough to type up a transcript. I think the talk captures a lot of what I find so compelling in Islam. It isn't about blind faith and emotional displays. It is more about a calm certainty which comes from unvarnished realism; knowing who you are in relation to God and the world.

see also:
manifest liberation: the four gates

we be broke while other folks' cash registers be like "i ching" "i ching" "i ching"

Lucy/Chambers is yet another piece from Heru. I really like this one, especially the section which includes the line I'm using as the title of this entry.
Those who hate what I’m saying right now are those who saw the slave ships coming and bowed. Those are the same people who would sell out their own people for trinkets and shiny things. They never say a word in African tongue like "uhuru" but are quick to say “Bling bling bling bling bumbleclot bling”. So you best turn off your tv unless you watchin’ Discovery or Nova. Because we need to start higher forms of meditation like yoga or Tantric Buddhism or something. Because we be broke while other folks’ cash registers be like “I Ching” “I Ching” “I Ching”

He reminds me of how Saul Williams broke down the word dis/orient and said it meant "to turn away from the East".

In other words, Williams (and Paul Robeson, and probably Heru) are saying that we are lost and disoriented because we cling too firmly to Western values. And in order to be "found" and properly "oriented" we need to look to the Orient (at least partially).

I think the "we be broke..." line is deep and hilariously clever. On the other hand (and I am overanalyzing it, but that's ok because it is really just a way to introduce some other topics) the more I thought about the line, the more I wanted to question whether or not it was actually true.

Are we (Black folks in America) really spritually broke? How do you even start to measure the spiritual wealth of a whole group? In my mind, the question is tied into a recent conversation over at the The Manrilla blog about the role of Arabic (or more precisely, Arab people) in the revelation of the Quran. Should a religious Muslim view the Quran as an accomplishment of Arab people? (You can read the discussion over there, but my basic answer: "no".)

Or moving along to the next part of the line, can the I Ching be viewed as an accomplishment of Chinese civilization? Another thought: Are "Oriental" people really more spiritual anyway? I'm admittedly working from a skewed sample but many of the East Asians I know are either Christian, or think that religion is for "old people" and so they don't think about it much. Most of the Indians I know seem to treat yoga like something which they learned in gym class (which it often is) rather than a deep spiritual practice. It seems like globally, most folks are fairly secular and caught up in the world, and it is only a minority in any civilization who worry much about spiritual things.

In fact, the more I think about the "we be broke..." line, especially in the context of the whole piece, the more I suspect I was misreading it earlier. The main clues are the multiple references to Ausar Auset (In fact even the name Heru is associated with the Ausar Auset and their version of the Tree of Life). Ausar Auset seems to encourage yoga, meditation, the kabbalah and other spiritual practices, including study of the I Ching. So if Heru is a part of the movement, it seems more likely that the line is his way to be genuinely humble about the fact that from his perspective, his own pockets are fat with spiritual "loot".

Anyway, I'm going to basically stop here. I know very little about Ausar Auset so I shouldn't "pontificate" about them out of ignorance. But since this is Planet Grenada, I will mention that the founder, Ra Un Nefer Amen (Rogelio Alcides Straughn) was born in Panama.

I'll leave you with some relevant links... until next time.

Grenada's past:
more on heru, the pan-african spoken-word artist
heru on the bush administration
saul williams
i ching and the tao of islam

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

a revolution in the middle east

From Immortal Technique's myspace blog: A Revolution in the Middle East

final call interview with immortal technique

From the Final Call: A lyrical revolution - Interview with Immortal Technique the Afro-Latino (but non-Muslim) rapper who has been mentioned several times here on Planet Grenada.
AM: What is the perfect world for Immortal Technique?

IT: The perfect world for me is to find some sort of inner peace. I believe that a man that walks with God can walk anywhere. Just because I choose to question religion doesn�t mean that I�m spitting in God's face; it's the opposite. I'm tired of people spitting in God's face. I'm tired of seeing these divisions over a different type of Christianity, over a different type of Islam.

When you look at Sunni and Shiite, you see that their division comes from who would control the culture of Islam. That isn�t about the sanctity of the religion, that's about who has the power. Are they related to the Prophet? If they weren't related to him, there's no way you would become related to him; you couldn't become his son all of a sudden if you were already born.

The Catholic Church did the same thing with its succession of popes. It is disturbing that one of [Cardinal Ratzinger's] primary functions was to destroy liberation theology in Latin Americaan ideology that promoted that Jesus Christ was more on the side of poor people than he would be on the side of rich people; that was Cardinal Ratzinger's position before he became pope. He was busy destroying those documents, destroying the idea that Jesus had more to do with the people; that he walked among than individuals that stole his image; that painted him White; that decided to use him to justify everything else.

I would love for [Jesus] to come back because I would love for him to face what is happening and to really have some sort of perspective. In that same respect, I'm sure that Prophet Muhammad would be disgusted by what some people use his name to justify.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

and so it was said

Sort of following up on the greater jihad post, here is a hadith for folks who have too simplistic a notion of how those who fight will be rewarded. It is pretty deep if you think about it. Even if you go and fight in a physical jihad, you still need to make sure that your intentions are in the right place (do internal jihad) or else all your actions are for nothing.

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) say:
The first of people against whom judgment will be pronounced on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who died a martyr. He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favours and he will recognize them. [ The Almighty] will say: And what did you do about them? He will say: I fought for you until I died a martyr. He will say: You have lied - you did but fight that it might be said [of you]: He is courageous. And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire. [Another] will be a man who has studied [religious] knowledge and has taught it and who used to recite the Quran. He will be brought and Allah will make known to his His favours and he will recognize them. [The Almighty] will say: And what did you do about them? He will say: I studied [religious] knowledge and I taught it and I recited the Quran for Your sake. He will say: You have lied - you did but study [religious] knowledge that it might be said [of you]: He is learned. And you recited the Quran that it might be said [of you]: He is a reciter. And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire. [Another] will be a man whom Allah had made rich and to whom He had given all kinds of wealth. He will be brought and Allah will make known to his His favours and he will recognize them. [The Almighty] will say: And what did you do about them? He will say: I left no path [untrodden] in which You like money to be spent without spending in it for Your sake. He will say: You have lied - you did but do so that it might be said [of you]: He is open-handed. And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire.

It was related by Muslim (also by at-Tirmidhi and an-Nasa'i)

the greater jihad: a muslim art of war

"Some troops came back from an expedition and went to see the Messenger of Allah (saaws). He said: "You have come for the best, from the smaller jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)." Someone said, "What is the greater jihad?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust" (mujahadat al-`abdi hawah).

For a long time now I've had an idea for a book. And I still might try to complete this project at a future date but I also think it is a good enough idea that on some level (especially in the current political climate) I would be happy if someone else "stole" the idea and did it first as long as it was executed well. My idea is to put together a Muslim version of the Art of War. Another work in the same ballpark would be the Hagakure which describes the code and values of the Samurai and which was prominently featured in the film Ghost Dog (A great film staring Forest Whitaker as a modern-day black Samurai/hitman in New Jersey)

What do I mean by a "Muslim Art of War"? I mean a compilation of Muslim reflection on struggle and warfare, starting with certain relevant passages of the Quran and examples from hadith, but also including the sayings of the companions and those who followed them, and possibly even writings from awliya who have participated in jihad through the centuries. Basically a spiritually-tinged Muslim guide to struggle, both physical and metaphysical.

I am bringing this idea up publically now because I recently found an anti-Islam site (which I won't do the honor of naming) where the author tried to discredit the above hadith and argue that co-existence with Muslims is impossible and that Islam were hell-bent on taking over the world. While it is true that there is a certain weakness in the isnad of the above hadith, one can still find ample support for its meaning in other more authentic texts. [1] [2]

Many of the ayat and hadith which would go into the kind of project I'm talking about should be unsurprising to many Muslims... for example:
A man asked: "What kind of jihad is better?"
The Prophet (saaws) replied: "A word of truth spoken in front of an oppressive ruler."


The Prophet (saaws) said: "The strong one is not the one who overcomes people, the strong one is he who overcomes his nafs [ego]."

But what might also be beneficial would be to look at some of the later texts which even Muslims might be less familiar with. For example, I'm Sunni but I still own a copy of Nahjul Balagha (or the Peak of Eloquence, a Shia collection of letters, sermons and sayings attributed to Imam Ali). I tend to suspend judgement about it's authenticity, but I'm not opposed to the idea that most of the text might actually trace back to Ali. In any case, if you look through it, you could find such gems as:

During civil disturbance adopt such an attitude that people do not attach any importance to you - they neither burden you with complicated affairs, nor try to derive any advantage out of you.
If you overpower your enemy, then pardon him by way of thankfulness to Allah, for being able to subdue him.
Silence will create respect and dignity; justice and fairplay will bring more friends; benevolence and charity will enhance prestige and position; courtesy will draw benevolence; service of mankind will secure leadership and good words will overcome powerful enemies.

In fact, many of the contents of Nahjul Balagha are presented as words from Ali either before or after a particular military/political action. In any case, I'm going to stop now and (inshaAllah) bring out more of this topic across a couple of posts.

Also check out S.H. Nasr: The Spiritual Significance of Jihad

Monday, August 21, 2006

"god gave noah the rainbow sign..." (part three)

There are a few other reasons for why the Noachides are so intriguing to me.

The Noachide faith seems like it could potentially provide a crude foundation for Perennialism (a subject we have talked about before). The Noachide principles (especially if they were developed more deeply) are arguably a form of the Perennial Wisdom (Sophia Perennis) which lies at the common center of all authentic religions.

In particular, the Islamic shariah also incorporates the basic Noachide commandments (including some of the more distinctive details regarding sexual immorality, making idols, and consuming blood) while obviously including many more besides the basic set of 7. So in some sense Islam is a more fleshed out way to be a "Noachide" while being more autonomous from Orthodox Judaism.

Also, it is common for Muslims to say that in some (usually metaphysical) sense, Islam is the eternal religion of all the prophets. But if the Noachide path is authentic, then one could literally say that Muslims are following the religion of Noah.

A final more provocative note... one of the more controversial issues which Muslim scholars seem to disagree on is the exact identity of the Sabians. Over the centuries, there has been a lot of speculation on which group is intended by the Quran in passages like:
Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

Some have suggested that the Sabians were star-worshippers and not even People of the Book. Others have identified them with the gnostic Mandaeans of Iran and Iraq who believe in John the Baptist (but not Jesus). But at least one scholar has suggested that the Sabians are a religion who follow the religion of Noah and read the Psalms. (The rabbis actually suggest that Noachides used the Psalms in their devotions). So if there were prominent communities of Noachides in the early Muslim world, perhaps they really did live on the Arabian Peninsula and are referred to in the Quran.

I won't get into the details now, but to add credibility to the above, in the New Testament (especially Acts 15) and other sources, there is some indication that many Gentiles in the ancient world followed some form of Noachide observance.

Google Directory: Noahidism

ignacio/ingrid rivera

I happen to be on an e-mail list where I got a heads-up about a new show called "Dancer" by Black Boricua spoken-word artist and activist, Ignacio Rivera.

I first saw Ignacio Rivera perform...


back when he was Ingrid Rivera...


in a show called Lagrimas de Cocodrilo/ Crocodile Tears. The performance was rather powerful and she genuinely wrestled with her experiences of sexual abuse and anxiety about being a mother. It dealt more with gender and sexuality than I expected. I went into it wanting more emphasis on the cultural/racial aspect but I was still very moved by her raw performance).

A few months ago, after seeing Ingrid, but before learning that she was becoming Ignacio I saw a performance by another Boricua spoken word artist who was also female-to-male transgendered. (Incidentally, that was where I first saw the video for "Querido FBI")

Both performances were intense, personal, and seemed cathartic for the artist. Both individuals also made me consider the question: Is culture is more fundamental to a person's identity than gender or vice versa? What do you think?

churches calls for divestment from israel

Haaretz: World Council of Churches calls for divestment from Israel

This is actually kind of deep. In contrast to the Christian Zionists in the evangelical movement, the World Council of Churches actually represents the mainstream of Protestants in the world.

On the other hand, the Christian Zionists still have a loud voice. For example see:
Al-Jazeera: Christian Zionists and false prophets by Daoud Kuttab
Mother Jones: Christian Zionists continue to have clout with White House
Kansas City Infozine: Christian Zionists Lobby Congress

Saturday, August 19, 2006

dj ahmedinejad aka hugo chavez

To be honest, I'm not sure what the whole story is. But I was checking out Ted Swedenburg's blog hawgblawg, and in his latest post Sound Comments... were links to different music pages, one by someone with the Grenada-esque name of DJ Ahmedinejad aka Hugo Chavez and some links to other pages by some very non-traditional Middle Eastern + Turkish electronic music collectives. Not my usual musical fare but still worth a listen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

niggers are scared of revolution

I don't know how your mind works but thinking about Gil Scott-Heron got me thinking about The Last Poets. And reflecting on that last hadith and how our current situation is related to love of the dunya and fear of death got me thinking about thier spoken word piece, Niggers are scared of Revolution. I don't mean to be irreverent but there seems to be a common message running through both pieces (although they are radically different in terms of tone and form).

our current condition

Partial Translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud
Book 37, Number 4284:
Narrated Thawban:
The Prophet (saaws) said: The people will soon summon one another to attack you as people when eating invite others to share their dish. Someone asked: Will that be because of our small numbers at that time? He replied: No, you will be numerous at that time: but you will be scum and rubbish like that carried down by a torrent, and Allah will take fear of you from the breasts of your enemy and cast wahn (enervation) into your hearts. Someone asked: What is wahn (enervation)? Apostle of Allah (saaws): He replied: Love of the world and dislike of death.

I was reminded of the above at jummah today. Of course the khatib repeated the frequently made point that the above hadith is a pretty spot-on description of the ummah in its current condition. But the message hit home with me a little harder than usual because I think it is also a pretty good diagnosis of my personal condition these days. As usual, I'm not going to get into too many details, just keep me in your dua.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the revolution will not be televised

For reasons I'm not going to get into, I've actually been thinking a lot about Gil Scott-Heron's classic spoken word piece, The Revolultion will not be Televised. In some ways, it is very very dated but you still have to respect the significance it had in its time, and the influence it has had on hip-hop (especially "conscious" hip-hop) in the present day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"god gave noah the rainbow sign..." (part two)

I think "O Mary don't you weep" is one of the more interesting gospel tunes for a number of reasons. (I really like Aretha Franklin's version off of her Amazing Grace album. The closest I could come to it in terms of a link was the Yolanda Adams version) I'm bringing it up now because at least the Springsteen version has the line "God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water the fire next time" which seemed relevant to the previous discussion of the Noachides.

Secondly it is one of the least objectionable hymns from an Islamic theological perspective. (No talk of Trinity, Incarnation, Crucifixion, etc.)

In fact, I would suggest that it makes a very good "ashurah hymn" (see day after day after day...) If you go by the most rigorous Sunni textual standards, Ashurah celebrates God rescuing the Jews from the forces of Pharaoh. And of course for Shias it commemorates the death of Hussein. But there are also soures which associate the day with other acts of God's mercy throughout sacred history, including the landing of Noah's ark, the healing of Job, the ascencion of Jesus and other events which are all superimposed on one another much as they are in the song:
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
"No more water but fire next time"
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

The same God who is willing to enter powerfully in history and drown an army to save a nation, is the same God willing to raise one person to comfort a crying woman.

You Tube: O Mary don't you weep (1930's Georgia fieldhands)
You Tube: O Mary don't you weep (Bruce Springsteen)
You Tube: O Mary don't you weep (Yolanda Adams tribute to Aretha Franklin)
Lyrics to O Mary don't you Weep (Springsteen version)

"god gave noah the rainbow sign..." (part one)

So I found a new website: which describes itself as advocating "the path of all prophets". The site seems fairly young and doesn't have a whole lot of articles or text in place but there appear to be some connections to taliyah al-mahdi and sean muttaqi, vegan reich and the hardline movement which we've talked about before.

The author of the site seems to be trying to develop a religious perspective which includes Judeo-Christian, Islamic and Taoist elements but the fact that he emphasizes Hebrew/Jewish terminology makes it more reminiscent of the Noachide movement.

Never heard of the Noachides? They are basically non-Jews who accept and follow the (usually Orthodox) Jewish conception of how Gentiles ought to live.

More specifically, if you take the Bible literally, then even before the covenant with the children of Israel at Sinai, God established a covenant with Noah and his descendents (i.e. all human beings). The sign of this covenant was the rainbow. And on God's side He promises not to destroy the world by flood again. ("God gave Noah the rainbow sign/ No more water, the fire next time") But then according to the Bible, man also has obligations to hold up on his end of the deal as well.
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it."

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
Genesis 9:1-13

Later rabbinical legal reasoning has taken this passage and others to generate a list of 7 commandments (not even a full set of 10) which are binding on Gentiles according to Orthodox Judaism:
1. Avodah zarah - Do not worship false gods.
2. Shefichat damim - Do not murder.
3. Gezel - Do not steal (or kidnap).
4. Gilui arayot - Do not be sexually immoral (forbidden sexual acts are traditionally interpreted to include incest, bestiality, male homosexual sex acts, i.e. sodomy, and adultery.)
5. Birkat Hashem - Do not "bless God" euphemistically referring to blasphemy.
6. Ever min ha-chai - Do not eat any flesh that was torn from the body of a living animal (given to Noah and traditionally interpreted as a prohibition of cruelty towards animals)
7. Dinim - Set up a system of honest, effective courts, police and laws.

According to some Jewish authorities, these commandments can actually be seen as 7 categories of laws, which can be broken down further into 66 commandments (or 30 in another formulation).

When I stop to think about it, it is surprising that there are actually people who are willing to participate in a Noachide movement under these terms. Judaism offers Jews a very rich and detailed set of guidelines for behavior while Gentile spirituality is a more loosely defined afterthought. Noachides believe that Orthodox Judaism is basically true, but choose not to covert. Nevertheless they still structure their own spiritual and ethical life in Jewish terms by following the Noachide path.

I'm not saying that the author of the Hashlamah page is a part of this movement, but just that one reminds me of the other. Both seem to start with the Torah and Jewish terminology and both seem to wrestle against Judaism's particularism by laying out a path for all humanity to follow.

Online book: The Path of the Righteous Gentile
Wikipedia: Noachide Laws
JewishEncyclopedia: Noachian Laws
Chabad-Lubavitch: Jews and Hasidic Gentiles: United to Save America
Rachav's Page: The Seven Laws Become Sixty-Six

Monday, August 14, 2006

heru on the bush administration

I just found some more spoken-word from Heru on YouTube. The piece is called "Hush, hush, hush..." I think it's my favorite performance of his so far from among the ones I've read/heard/seen.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

did he know the mike was on?

YouTube: The other state of the Union Speech

post 9/11 blues

Shave your beard if your brown
And you best salute the crown
Or theyll do you like Brazillians
And shoot your ass down

Check out the Post 9/11 Blues by UK rapper MC Riz

Grenada: i guess we ALL look alike
The Observer: What happened to MC Riz?

the jamaa'at tableegh and the deobandis

I feel a little weird including this link to the online book The Jamaa'at Tableegh and the Deobandis. On the one hand the book is probably the most detailed text I've seen which disusses the specific beliefs of the Deobandi movement and really helps to locate the Deobandis in their proper place with respect to Islamic thought. On the other hand, the author is definitely a hostile witness who sees the Deobandis as a deviant group and so the book is very polemical throughout. I'll just say that the book is interesting reading but to take what it says with a great deal of salt. I'm sure you can learn a great deal about the Deobandis by reading it, but you can probably learn a lot more on what the Salafis think about the Deobandis.

the cultural politics of paul robeson and richard wright

Chickenbones: The Cultural Politics of Paul Robeson and Richard Wright: Theorizing the African Diaspora by Floyd W. Hayes, III compares and contrasts how two great African-American cultural critics dealt with living in the belly of the beast.

radical african-american muslims

Thanks to George Kelly of negrophile for the heads up:

Radical Trends in African-American Islam by Chris Zambelis starts off by acknowledging the fact that the Seas of David, the group whose members were recently arrested in Florida, aren't actually a Muslim organization. But his article still goes on to raise an alarmist note about possible radical militant tendancies among African-American Muslims.

Florida African-American Group Inspired by al-Qaeda Ideology also by Zambelis, goes into a little more detail about the Seas of David and its similarities to other movements. He also points out that just because a group may be tactically working with al-Qaeda that doesn't necessarily imply any kind of ideological affinity. For example, the white supremacist group Aryan Nations has manifested some willingness to co-ordinate their efforts with al-Qaeda as well.

I would want to underline again the point I made earlier in ideology and temperament that violence and militancy need to be viewed seperately from the issue of ideology.

Perhaps the point would be easier to see in a different context. In the U.S. one of the main examples we see of Christian terrorism appears in the form of violence directed at abortion clinics and the doctors and nurses who work in them. There is a small extremist fringe which engages in such violence, even though in principle the overwhelming majority of Catholics and evangelical Christians believe that abortion is morally equivalent to murder. So the difference between the terrorists and the non-terrorists doesn't lie in their beliefs about abortion but somewhere else (e.g. their mental health or emotional state, attitudes towards "the system" and a host of other factors which could be lumped together under the umbrella of "temperament")

I would suggest that in a similar way one can make room for "radical" (deep, to the "root") Muslims whose worldview is thoroughly shaped by the principles of orthodox Islam. Truly "radical" Islam will inspire and guide its practitioners to lead more compassionate and spiritual lives. Such "radicals" will be good neighbors who make positive contributions to whatever society they live in. Terrorism, on the other hand, is rooted in narrow thinking, short-sightedness and anger. It doesn't come from "depth" or being "radical", on the contrary, it is the ultimate example of superficiality which treats life and death as means to an end.

I feel like I plug it too much but I want to just point to the Third Resurrection blog to demonstrate that a deep "radical" commitment to the Quran and Sunnah combined with the collective spiritual, historical, political, and philosophical wisdom of people of African-descent is a good thing; something to be prized and valued and cultivated instead of feared.

see also:
islam needs radicals
islam in latin america (which links to another article by Chris Zambelis)
laughing lions
miami and the seas of david
eric robert rudolph

Saturday, August 12, 2006 is a website for more up-to-date information about those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay

Grenada's past:
un calls guantanamo a us torture camp
don't know what else to say
guantanamo suicide attempts
guantanamo and planet grenada

hairpeace or "how to take over the world and still remain human beings"

One of my favorite examples of storytelling is called Hairpeace by Pearl Cleage. In college, a friend of mine had given me a copy of a spoken word tape he had dubbed from another classmate. The tape was mostly The Last Poets along with some other unidentified spoken-word pieces (including Hairpeace). For the longest time I had no idea what the piece was even called or the name of the person speaking.

But a few months ago, with Google's help, I was actually able to track the text of the original work down and have included the link above. The piece is, on one level, a commentary on how prominent "hair issues" are in Black culture.
Sometimes it seems like all we ever talk about is hair. But it's not our fault. It's a rule. You can't be a black woman writer in America and not talk about hair. They won't renew your license and, well, a black woman writing without a license in America? I guess you know the penalty for that.

The premise is that there is actually a formal requirement to tell a minimum of 10 hair stories a year if you want to be a black woman writer. But Cleage has not been sticking to quota and since the deadline is coming up and it is too late to get extension (pun probably intended), she decides tell all 10 hair stories in one sitting.

If I had to tell my own hair story, I would have to mention how in college I'd always admired the brothers with their own clippers who had the skill to make a little extra money by giving haircuts. Later on, I would get my own equipment so that I could at least take care of my own hair. But eventually, after a "tragic" clipper accident I started shaving my hair off altogether and the rest is history. I haven't paid for a haircut in years.

I'm reminded of Hairpeace now, especially because of one passage in particular:
Discourse about afternoon slow dancing and the possibilities of grown-up, non-monogamous love, and the raising of sane and thoughtful and affectionate children, and the methods necessary to take over the world and still remain human beings is not allowed, because whenever we get together, we're supposed to bolt the door and dim the lights and look at each other and say, "O-o-o-o-o-o! This terrible hair!"

I was really struck by that phrase, "how to take over the world and still remain human beings". That is what it is all about. Grenada. Progressive politics. The spiritual left. Food not bombs. The Civil Rights Movement. All sorts of humane activism and social justice work. Revolutionary movements throughout history have given into temptation and found themselves on the wrong side of this dilemma, becoming at least as bad as the regimes they overthrew.

Or in terms of my own small-scale political world: How do you change a political system for the better, while holding on to your integrity? How do you deal with dishonest and Machiavellian actors without adopting their methods? How do you follow Jesus' instructions to "be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves"?

If I figure it out, I'll let you know.

Grenada's past (the connections to the above aren't necessarily deep or obvious)
somewhat machiavellian
it's a small world after all
it's just the mood i'm in
at the risk of sounding ridiculous...

Friday, August 11, 2006

a recent interview with suheir hammad

Out in the Indian Ocean somewhere
There's a former army post
Abandoned now just like the war
And there's no doubt about it
It was the myth of fingerprints
That's what that old army post was for
-Paul Simon

The above is from "The myth of the fingerprints", one of the more thought-provoking songs on Paul Simon's Graceland album. The myth of the fingerprints (in my view) is the idea that we are all different and absolutely unique, all unconnected and alone. This illusion of isolation leads to division, a lack of empathy and ultimately violence ("That's what that old army post was for").

I am reminded of that song after finding a recent interview with Suheir Hammad on the Electronic Intifada, and especially after reading the following section:
The Black Nationalist Movement, the Power To The People Movements, plural, all made these connections. African Nationalism, Arab Nationalism, the indigenous movements in South and Central America which were crushed by our government all made the connection, it came back to land. [...] I can make that connection without reading any book and without having a political view on any one of the ethnic conflicts around the world. I can make the connection with me and a Palestinian farmer whose olive trees are razed, or an American farmer in Nebraska who can no longer save seeds because the big pesticide companies say that seeds can no longer be saved. I think that connection is already there. One of the things that happens - it has happened with the work of June Jordan and Audre Lorde - the criticism that would be thrown upon them is: "The world is not that connected." There are these huge differences and there is a reactionary part of nationalism, of course, which says "no one suffers like my people suffer." That is what Angela Davis calls "the oppression Olympics" - "No one has been through this history. No one knows how I feel." The gap that I'm trying to fill isn't whether or not we are connected, because people understand this connection no matter the language that addresses the culture we are talking about, but the sense that the differences are okay and should be celebrated. And that ultimately, the differences don't matter when it comes to putting food on your child's plate or the kind of education that will be available to them. People have a hard time and we tend to feel isolated in our victimhood - that's the idea of victimhood, right? No one else understands and no one else can help you.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

palestinian che

palestinian che

I'm not sure about the original source of this image, but it certainly seems to fit the blog. So does:
"jerusalem is ours"
you say it like its a bad thing...
salsa diplomacy
which are also about interesting juxtapositions between elements of Arab/Muslim culture on the one hand, and Latino culture on the other.

terry howcott

I just wanted to give a shout-out to Terry Howcott's page and her list of strongly recommended sites. I also added a link to my side bar. The bulk of the sites are largely Black-themed but a few are also progressive-, Latino- or Muslim-related as well.

weeping and nashing of teeth aka he got game

This is very non-Grenadaesque entry about love, romance and game theory which I started to write on over a month ago but didn't pick up again until now. One of the more oddly thought-provoking scenes from the film A Beautiful Mind takes place in a bar where the mathematician John Nash and his classmates are admiring the same blonde woman from across the room:

Nash: If we all go for the blonde, we block each other, and not a single one of us is goin'’ to get her. So then we go for her friends, but they will all give us the cold shoulder because nobody likes to be second choice. But what if no one goes for the blonde? We don'’t get in each other'’s way, and we don't insult the other girls. That'’s the only way we win. That's the only way we all get laid.

Nash (continuing): Adam Smith said, the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what'’s best for himself, right? That's what he said, right? Incomplete. Incomplete! Because the best result would come from everyone in the group doing what'’s best for himself and the group.

Hansen: Nash, if this is some way for you to get the blonde on your own, you can go to Hell.

Nash: Governing dynamics, gentlemen... governing dynamics. Adam Smith... was wrong.

I think there is a stereotype/fetish out there that Black men are especially attracted to thick white women and vice-versa (e.g. Lose weight, or be reduced to dating Black men! Oh, the horror. . .). To explain this phenomena some people point to different "African" standards of beauty, class issues, racial self-hatred and other factors. And those are all part of the picture. But something which occurs to me that another way to think about this situation is to say that on both sides, the relevant players have learned to "go for the brunette". Men judge women by their appearance. Women judge men by their status and earning power. And what happens in terms of relationships is that the different actors learn to swim in the part of the pool where they can handle the competition and certain equilibrium points are reached. First tier with first tier. Second tier with second tier. etc. However athletic, handsome, funny, etc. a black man is going to be "second tier" in terms of status. (e.g. consider all the personal ads where people openly declare a racial preference). However kind, intelligent, talented, a women who doesn't fit into anorexic standards of beauty is going to be "second tier" in terms of appearance. Thus the stereotype.

An article which shares some other insight on the issue of body image and romance among Black Americans asks the question Is the Size of Beauty Changing in the African American Community? and is also worth a look at.

The last brief remark I wanted to share on this general subject of relationships and game theory (which actually kind of inspired the whole entry) relates the concept of Nash equilibrium to romantic situations.

For those who don't know what a Nash equilibrium is, imagine a game of at least two players. Each player chooses a particular strategy. In a simple game, the strategies would be something like "always choose rock" or "randomly choose paper half the time and scissors half the time". A more complex game would have strategies like "be coy and play hard to get" or "be the bad boy since girls like that". So if you can imagine that all the players in a particular game have chosen a strategy, a Nash equilibrium would be a situation where no player has anything to gain by unilaterally changing that strategy. So a Nash equilibrium is a kind of stable place where the players would tend to adopt certain patterns of behavior which worked and stick to them.

When I began this entry and was thinking about the lives of my friends, I had initially wanted to make the claim that post-romantic break-up situations didn't seem to have Nash equilibria. I looked at the weirdness and foolishness they seemed to be going through where one person or another always wants a little more or a little less than the other person is willing to give.

But for his dissertation Nash proved that if you include what he calls mixed strategies every finite game has a Nash equilibrium. And as I'm writing now, more than a month after making my initial conjecture, it turns out that in spite of my early pessimism, the specific situation I had in mind actually has settled to a more or less stable point. And in my own way I've found some small but still surprising empirical confirmation of Nash's result, showing that mathematics occasionally has something relevant to say about our social lives. Pretty deep.

Friday, August 04, 2006

music and islam

The previous post, along with the discussion of fiqh differences got me thinking about how different Muslims view music. The general "orthodox" position for all four sunni schools is that most forms (or at least a very wide range) of music are actually prohibited but of course there are also classical scholars who disagree. And obviously the existence of a sizeable Muslim musical tradition, shows that in practice, Muslim behavior is generally more liberal on this point.

Music Good: Issue of singing and music in Islam
Music Bad: Legal Status of Music and Singing

If you accept the Bible, one of the more powerful arguments in favor of the value of music is the fact that the Psalms (the Zabur of David mentioned in the Quran) are a collection of songs. The musical aspects of the Zabur/Psalms are not as obvious in the Quran as they are in the Bible so Islamic scholars have not always accepted the claim that David's revelations were meant to be sung.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"if god is a dj"

For a long time now, I've realized that there is an intriguing comparison/contrast which can be made between the music and chanting which forms a part of sufi dhikr sessions and secular dance music played in clubs, (especially the less verbal genres like techno, house and trance). But recently when I heard the following lyric:
If God is a DJ
Life is a dance floor
Love is the rhythm
You are the music
If God is a DJ
Life is a dance floor
You get what you're given
its all how you use it
"If God is a DJ", Pink

it made me wonder if the lines had some antecedent among some form of Sufi poetry (e.g. "If God is a tabla player"?). It turns out I didn't find exactly what I was looking for but I did come across the following from musician and mystic, Hazrat Inayat Khan:
Why is music called the divine art, while all other arts are not so called? We may certainly see God in all arts and in all sciences, but in music alone we see God free from all forms and thoughts. In every other art there is idolatry. Every thought, every word has its form. Sound alone is free from form. Every word of poetry forms a picture in our mind. Sound alone does not make any object appear before us. Music, the word we use in our everyday language, is nothing less than the picture of the Beloved.

In some ways, Hazrat Inayat Khan is a controversial figure. Some people almost consider him to have played a large role in creating the false notion that Sufism is something which is seperate from Islam, instead of seeing that Sufism (tasawwuf, tazkiyah, the fiqh and science of acquiring ihsan) as something very integral to Islam. So I would say that he has definitely been influential, but I wouldn't recommend his works as a way to understand authentic Sufism. But in any case, if you want to get a sense of the rest of his opinions you can check out:
The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan
Wahiduddin's Hazrat Inayat Khan site