Wednesday, December 15, 2010

qui-gon, islam and narnia

In a recent interview Liam Neeson (who voices the voice of Aslan in the Narnia films and Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars prequal films) has gotten into a bit of "trouble" with exclusive-minded Christians because he said:

Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.

As far as I can tell, many voices in the Christian/conservative blogosphere seem to be taking the position that Liam Neeson is simply stupid, but I would tend to argue that the issue is a bit more complex. On the one hand, C.S. Lewis was obviously a Christian and intended Aslan to represent Jesus, the Conquering Lion of Judah.

But in an old post over at Islamicate you can find a tongue-in-cheek argument that C.S. Lewis is Muslim and that Aslan is best seen as an allegory for Imam Ali (after all, "Aslan" is actually Persian for "lion" and one of Ali's titles is the Lion of God).

More support for Liam Neeson's inclusive position can be found in the Narnia books themselves and how they present Aslan as a being with multiple forms and names. (And a previous Grenada post actually explores the idea, held by some Muslims, that essentially the same light that shone through Muhammad (saaws) shone through all the prophets, including Jesus (as)). In The Last Battle, Lewis seems to endorse the concept of the anonymous Christian when he describes the encounter between Aslan and Emeth (a visitor from a neighboring country who was worshiping "another" God named Tash all his life):

"Then I [Emeth] fell at his [Aslan's] feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, 'Son, thou art welcome.' But I said, 'Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.' He answered, 'Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.' Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, 'Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that though and Tash are one?'The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, 'It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites - I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, child?'

So arguably, according to Lewis, the good deeds of the Muslim and the Buddhist are accepted and rewarded by God, whether they are done in the name of Christ or not.

As a counterpoint, some might argue that Lewis' views about Muslims are suggested in his descriptions of the Calormen who worship the demon-God Tash. Calormenes are described as dark-skinned, with the men mostly bearded. Flowing robes, turbans and wooden shoes with an upturned point at the toe are common items of clothing, and the preferred weapon is the scimitar. Their country is bordered, on the north, by a Great Desert. When people like Philip Pullman (the author of the "anti-Narnia" series, His Dark Materials) criticize the Narnia books as racist, the argument is basically about this group.

So we are left with a weird sort of tension... if we assume C.S. Lewis believes in the concept of the anonymous Christian (or as Matthew 25 says, those who are welcomed into God's kingdom because of how they treated "the least of these") then, at least theoretically, Lewis believes in the salvation of the "good Muslim". On the other hand, his, arguably racist, depiction of the Calormen leaves one wondering how he really felt about flesh-and-blood Middle Easterners, Persians, Africans, etc.

The Guardian: All is well with Narnia (which deals with the Liam Neeson "gaffe") The Last Battle (with a discussion of Lewis' racism re: the Calormen)
This Ain't Livin': Red Dwarf, Black Dwarf: The Racial Overtones of Narnia
Beliefnet: The Lion, the Muslim, and the Dryer by Dilshad Ali

Planet Grenada:
pride of baghdad
the devil and al-hallaj
harry potter and the last review
harry potter and the magic of whiteness
bell hooks v. harry potter

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