Quran Read-A-Long: An Attempt to Grapple with the Notion of Faith in Islam

I like this quick tale about Abraham in verse 258. I can’t say I have anything in particular to add to its understanding, but I like it. I think it’s funny that the demonstrative tale in verse 259 would be placed between Abraham’s assertion of God’s greatness and his seeming lack of faith in verse 260.

It seems especially odd to me that someone speaking to God would then question matters that God says are so, like resurrection. It seems somewhat illogical since faith is believing without proof and Abraham already has proof of God since they’re chatting casually. Why would Abraham tell God that he has faith but that he just needs a little proof to lay his mind at ease. Needing proof is the essence of not having faith. As Jesus said, it is a wicked generation that needs signs. Not to go all Jesus quoting on anybody – I think it can be very annoying when people do that to make a point – but I do it to emphasize the notion of faith, which is Jesus’ point. You have to believe in things without being shown that they are so. Otherwise you don’t have faith.

I know it seems silly but it makes me think of the Keanu Reeves movie, Constantine. Reeves’ character, thought that he deserved to go to heaven because he believed in God and hell and damnation and all the stuff, as a Catholic, he was supposed to. The angel Gabriel (in the movie) tells him that he doesn’t believe in these things. He knows them to be true because he died briefly, saw these things, and was then resuscitated (or came back to life, if you prefer the symbolic language).

In any case, the point is that once you know, it’s no longer faith. It’s knowledge. That isn’t to say that faith is without knowledge, but just to say that Abraham’s request in this story, considering the mention of faith, is at odds with what my understanding of faith is (and I’ve worked very hard to understand faith). Perhaps faith in Islam is meant in another way (or the translation is tripping me up and Arabic has an in between word) and I’m failing to understand that (and when I say faith, I’m not using the word as a substitute for the word religion). If you can shed light on this issue, I’d be most appreciative.

Finally, my apologies for the two week hiatus from Quran Read-A-Long. Life became overwhelmingly busy and disappointingly, this and my other blogging “responsiblities” got pushed by the wayside. I felt an absence, not from the rest of it, but from this, and am glad to be doing it again. I hope that in the future I don’t have to skip any weeks. Thanks for your patience.

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The Cow 258-260

258. ART THOU NOT aware of that [king] who argued with Abraham about his Sustainer, [simply] because God had granted him kingship? Lo! Abraham said: “My Sus’tainer is He who grants life and deals death.” [The king] replied: “I [too] grant life and deal death!” Said Abraham: “Verily, God causes the sun to rise in the east; cause it, then, to rise in the west!” Thereupon he who was bent on denying the truth remained dumbfounded: for God does not guide people who [deliberately] do wrong. 259. Or [art thou, O man, of the same mind] as he who passed by a town deserted by its people, with its roofs caved in, [and] said, “How could God bring all this back to life after its death?” Thereupon God caused him to be dead for a hundred years; whereafter He brought him back to life [and] said: “How long hast thou remained thus?” He answered: “I have remained thus a day, or part of a day.” Said [God]: “Nay, but thou hast remained thus for a hundred years! But look at thy food and thy drink, untouched is it by the passing of years – and look at thine ass! And We did all this so that We might make thee a symbol unto men. And look at the bones [of animals and men] – how We put them together and then clothe them with flesh!” And when [all this] became clear to him, he said: “I know [now] that God has the power to will anything!” 260. And, lo, Abraham said: “O my Sustainer! Show me how Thou givest life unto the dead!” Said He: “Hast thou, then, no faith?”(Abraham) answered: “Yea, but [let me see it] so that my heart may be set fully at rest.” Said He: “Take, then, four birds and teach them to obey thee; then place them separately on every hill [around thee]; then summon them: they will come flying to thee. And know that God is almighty, wise.”

Kenny Saves Heaven from Satan During a Right to Life Debate in South Park Episode 904, “Best Friends Forever”

With the release of the new PSP and the accompanying game, Heaven vs. Hell, Kenny is found to be the greatest player on earth. Thus, God strikes him with a truck so that he can come to Heaven and defend it against the minions of Hell. That’s right: God designed the game to find Heaven’s very own Keanu Reeves (think, Constantine).

But in the past Satan has actually been a rather pleasant – if misunderstood – fellow, so why is he now attacking Heaven? Well, his minion/adviser/boyfriend, Kevin, has persuaded him to do so, and so in Lord of the Rings fashion (this episode hits just about everything) orcs are created to do battle against Heaven.

Unfortunately for Heaven’s retention of Kenny and his excellent ability to defend it against Hell, doctors on earth have hooked Kenny up to life support, thereby trapping his soul in his vegetative body. Think Terry Schiavo. I told you: this episode hits everything. Since Kenny left his PSP to Cartman in his will, Cartman wants him to remain dead, but sensing Cartman’s evil machinations, Kyle and Stan try to keep Kenny alive. As it turns into a national debate with Republican involvement on the pro-life, and in this case, Satanic side.

In the end more of Kenny’s will is discovered; he requested that he never be shown on tv in a vegetative state. Realizing that they were wrong but for the right reasons, Kyle and Stan allow Kenny to die. He goes to Heaven and defends it successfully in a battle that is amazing but which we are never allowed to see.

This great episode tackles so many elements of pop culture while making a mockery of America’s handling of the Terry Schiavo situation. A true testimony to Matt and Trey’s skills.

What did you think? What was your favorite part?

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Around the World: Jesus’ Crucifixion, Dressing and Burial at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

You best believe that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is absolutely one of the coolest and craziest places on the planet. When I lived in Jerusalem I used to go there all the time, and it was one of my favorite place to take people when they visited me.

The Building

This building, constructed in multiple stages (Byzantine period, Crusader period and repairs until the 1800s – but not since due to a treaty that forbids modifications not agreed upon by all six Christian denominations there) is a series of twists and turns with bizarre, dark outlets, rooms and altars, and the neatest parts of the church can only be discovered if you know what you’re doing in there.

Another time I will include pictures of old tombs in the back, rock quarries in the bottom and all sorts of weird other places, and for now I’ll settle for telling you about the three pictures I’ve attached above.

The Three Stages

The three pictures represent the final three stages in the Stations of the Cross, Jesus’ bearing of his cross from his condemnation to his burial. The first site is on a small mountain, known as Golgotha (and bear in mind that this would have all been outside the first century walls of the city though it is now right inside the Arab quarter). Allegedly, this is where Jesus’ cross was erected (and I’ll tell you why this is exceedingly unlikely below). There is a tasteful statue of Jesus on a cross there now just so you can really get the full idea.

The second picture is where his body was laid when it was taken down from the cross – on that slab with the lamp-like incense-holder looking things above it. Though people come and kiss this slab and rub things on it for good luck, they fail to realize that due to damages and wear, the previous slab was replaced in the 19th century – and it’s unclear how long that one had been there anyway.

The final picture is the structure that houses the tomb (carved out of what was once a rock face) where Jesus’ body was supposedly laid for the three days before his resurrection. The line to go inside is often pretty long but once you get in and look up through the ante-chamber, you see right up to the top of the dome beneath you. The silver picture of the Virgin Mary inside actually looks just like T-1000 from Terminator 2.

The History

In fact, it is exceedingly unlikely – nay, near impossible – that Jesus had anything to do with this spot. That’s not to say that he wasn’t crucified and buried – I’m not here to speak about that at all – but only that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not where any of these things would have happened.

To keep a few points brief, the Church wasn’t constructed until the reign of Constantine in the fourth century, three hundred years after Jesus’ death and long after anyone had seen anything; what’s more, Jerusalem had changed from a Jewish to a pagan-Roman city (and it’s name to Aelia Capitalina) with literally no Jews left inside who would have known the locations of key things.

Additionally, the actual site of the Church was erected on a pagan temple by Constantine in order to show the pagan inhabitants of Jerusalem that their time in the city was up and because people have a habit of building their holy sites on ground already considered holy (place has validity spiritually – just think the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount which was at our period a Temple of Jupiter which before was the Jewish Temple and way before that a Jebusite altar). So the place had spiritual validity but not connected to Jesus.

Finally (though this isn’t final but I thought I should toss out a few reasons), all stories about how the Church’s spot were discovered date only from the fifth century and can be seen to have been invented based on stories of Constantine’s mother coming to the Holy Land, walking around and literally saying – by the power of God, mind you – that this place is where such and such happened “so erect a church here.” And those stories materialized long after her death!

Oh yeah, and because Protestants don’t buy this as the place, they’ve picked a totally different spot in Jerusalem and say the whole thing happened there. Only Coptics, Armenians, Catholics and a few others believe this was the right place.

Why I Love This Place

Well for one thing, it’s frickin’ cool: weird, dungeony, filled with bizarre characters in crazy outfits believing all sorts of wild stuff – and most of whom hate each other and compete with each other by trying to ring their bells louder than their rivals can ring their own bells. It’s also in the heart of the Arab quarter, has tourists from all over the world in it, Jews walking around outside, Christians inside – you can hear the muezzin call, the Church bells ring and the Jews pray from elsewhere. It’s so vibrant. And historically speaking, I don’t need Jesus to have died there for it to be a fascinating place.

The spot’s history is fascinating anyway considering what it actually was before a Christian Church, the way it was conceived of as a Christian holy place, the development of its history and mythologizing and what has happened to it ever since. Crusaders sometimes didn’t call their quest a crusade but rather, The War to Free the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims. And when they arrived they’d carve crosses in the church’s walls so some places are covered in thousand year old cross carvings – one for every crusader that reached the spot and fought for it.

If you ever go to Jerusalem I highly recommend that you make it a priority and if I’m ever there at the same time, I’d be happy to show you around.

Have you ever visited? What did you think? Would you like to visit? For religious purposes or worldly curiousity? What does your religion tell you the importance of this site is?

Want to see more pictures about holy places in Jerusalem? For the Around the World Pic of the Day on the Dome of the Rock, click HERE.

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