Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 122-129 Introduces us to Abraham, Ishmael and the Ka’aba

Verse 123 is a sad day to imagine, when men stop acting on behalf of one another and no one is willing to stand up for another.

Abraham and Such

The verses about Abraham fascinate me, primarily for their similarities to and differences from the biblical story. According to the Bible Abraham didn’t ask about his progeny – he was simply promised by God that he would be the father of many nations (among a few other things). Biblically, God made no caveats regarding the transgressors among Abraham’s progeny, though once Israel was with Moses in the desert they were reassured that if they were bad they would get kicked out of Cana’an.

So what is the relevance of Abraham here being told that God doesn’t tolerate transgressors or make them leaders among men? Well, for one thing, it adds an element of merit into the story that the Bible lacks. Abraham, in the Bible, is singled out by God for absolutely no reason. Numerous stories about “why Abraham” have been invented but none exist in the Bible itself. That is, no merit is involved with Abraham or his offspring. In the Quran, however, whether or not there is a reason for picking Abraham (I’m not there yet if there is), he is told that God will not honor his progeny who have what seems to be negative merit; that is, who are transgressors. This is a more long-sighted and thoughtful God. The God of Genesis makes an arbitrary promise and seems forced by the honor of His word to follow through for hundreds of years.

The Ka’aba

The connection of Abraham and Ishmael to the Ka’aba is also an interesting element to the understanding of Abraham for those familiar with only the biblical stories. It adds an entirely new dimension to the characters, particularly Ishmael, who plays a backseat role in the Bible. Connecting this revered figures to this spot and its sanctification must truly enhance the spirituality of worship.

The Bible connects Abraham with numerous spots in Canaan (Beer Sheba, Bethel, etc.), and though some people visit them out of reverence none is actually turned into a place of worship. Of course, it is believed that the spot where Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice occured at Mount Moriah, which is allegedly the same place that the Temple was eventually located (where the Dome of the Rock now stands), but that is merely speculative (and in Islam the attempted sacrifice wasn’t of Isaac anyway!). All we know is that Abraham walked three days from Be’er Sheba and there is no real connection to the Temple Mount being Mount Moriah, nor does the Bible say it is so. The attempt to draw the connection in Jewish history, however, reinforces the understanding of the significance for Muslims that Abraham was involved with the Ka’aba.

Abraham and Islam

Abraham’s entreaty of God is also fascinating. By asking to be made to submit and by asking for submissive progeny it seems to me that he is literally asking for Islam, which means submission.

Though Jews like to say that Abraham was the first Jew, the Bible doesn’t make this claim and it is relatively unfounded. In the Quran, however, Abraham seems to be asking for, and therefore in a sense founding, Islam. Of course, Islam doesn’t begin until Mohammed’s time, but this lays the foundation for that in the earliest relevant generation.

Is verse 129 meant to be a specific reference to a particular apostle or a general plea for apostles to come and provide guidance? That is to say, is this a reference to Mohammed?

Summary

What do you think of these verses? What can you add that I didn’t mention or correct that I said? Have you ever been to the Ka’aba? Can you share your experience with us?

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The Cow 122-129

122. O Children of Israel, remember the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 123. Fear the day when no man will stand up for man in the least, and no ransom avail nor intercession matter nor help reach. 124. Remember, when his Lord tried Abraham by a number of commands which he fulfilled, God said to him: “I will make you a leader among men.” And when Abraham asked: “From my progeny too?” the Lord said: “My pledge does not include transgressors.” 125. Remember, We made the House (of Ka’bah) a place of congregation and safe reatreat, and said: “Make the spot where Abraham stood the place of worship;” and enjoined upon Abraham and Ishmael to keep Our House immaculate for those who shall walk around it and stay in it for contemplation and prayer, and for bowing in adoration. 126. And when Abraham said: “O Lord, make this a city of peace, and give those of its citizens who believe in God and the Last Day fruits for food,” He answered: “To those will I also give a little who believe not, for a time, then drag them to Hell, a dreadful destination!” 127. And when Abraham was raising the plinth of the House with Ishmael (he prayed): Accept this from us, O Lord, for You hear and know everything; 128. And make us submit, O Lord, to Your will, and our progeny a people submissive to You. Teach us the way of worship and forgive our trespasses, for You are compassionate and merciful; 129. And send to them, O Lord, an apostle from among them to impart Your messages to them, and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and correct them in every way; for indeed You are mighty and wise.”

Around the World: The Acropolis in Athens is an Incredible Place

Enjoying the View from the Acropolis

Enjoying the View from the Acropolis

Greece is a spectacularly beautiful place. Most of my time there was spent hopping around a few islands, and I only spent about 4 hours in Athens before I caught a plane to London at the end of my trip. All I really cared to do was explore the ancient forum and climb up to the Acropolis.

Like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that is currently home to the Dome of the Rock, the Acropolis, meaning ‘sacred rock’ is an elevated mountain platform that has always been associated with the sacred and the holy. Since the sixth millennium BCE it has been inhabited or built upon and though it is no longer in use for worshiping the gods, it’s still a breathtaking place to visit.

The 360 degree views from the top are spectacular. The columns are insanely enormous and the entire structure dwarves you and all the people hopping around the edges of it. Funny enough, I saw the friezes that adorned the Acropolis a year earlier when I was in London visiting the British Museum. They’re also incredible, and I can’t imagine what they would have looked like at the top of this amazing structure.

Have you ever been to the Acropolis? What did you think? Have you seen the parts of it that are in the British Museum?

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Barack Obama’s Note in Jerusalem’s Western Wall is Published Around the World

Situation

Barack Obama went to Israel and the West Bank recently in order to discuss issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and continue his international campaign for president of the United States of America. I’m going to set aside how fascinating I find the fact that this is the first presidential race that has included vigorous international campaigning (and that’s exactly what it is so let’s not mince words), and only discuss what happened during his visit to the Western Wall (also known as the Kotel or Wailing Wall). After all, this is a blog concerned with religion, not international politics, and this is religion in the news day.

History of the Western Wall

In actuality, the wall is part of a far larger retaining wall that holds up one side of a mountain, on top of which lies an enormous platform which once had the Temple sitting on it. Now, the Dome of the Rock is up there (click HERE for a picture and more history). There are actually other spots where you can go and see parts of this old retaining wall and pray if you like, but Jews, for the most part, don’t. They stick it out right here on this little section: they think it’s the holiest spot of all the potential ones. But why?

Because centuries ago when the Turks controlled the Holy Land and the Jews were praying all over the area to be as close to the original site of the Temple as possible, they were annoying the Turks. So, the Turks wanted to give the Jews a set place that they could and had to pray. Thus, they picked the current Wailing Wall. It is therefore only historical precedent which makes the Jews believe the Western Wall has some added holiness (though the proximity to the site of the original Temple does help this feeling, somewhat more justly, I suppose), and that is why they pray there. Personally, I’ve never much enjoyed the experience of going to the Wall, but we can get into those reasons another time.

Obama and the Western Wall

It is customary to leave notes in the Wall addressed to God. Many Jews do this (you can even email or fax notes and look at the Wall via webcam any day but Saturday), and many non-Jews participate in this ritual as well, believing in the sanctity of this spot and that it’s God’s post office. So, when Obama went, he too left a note. It’s not like Obama to be politically uncouth, after all.

Now, some very unethical individual decided to remove Obama’s note and bring it to a newspaper in Israel which promptly published it. I think this is despicable – less the act of publication itself than the actual  removal of the note from the Wall. Fortunately, the chief rabbis in Israel, as well as the rabbi who supervises the Wall, agree with me, and I’m surprised and pleased to get to say this.

I had feared that the rabbis would have said something to the effect of not caring that it was removed because Barack Obama is just a gentile and may well be a damn Muslim. Yes, something incredibly stupid like that. This, honestly, was my fear – that they would further embarrass Israel, the Jewish people, and anyone with half a sense of decency by saying that Obama shouldn’t be leaving notes anyway. Thank goodness this is not their policy and it’s not how they behaved. They condemned the whole thing, saying that what any man puts in the Wall is his private business and communication with God. For perhaps the first time in my life, I will say, good job rabbis in Israel.

Media Reaction

The most fascinating part about this to me is not that someone took the piece of paper. I could have called that. Instead, I love the way other media, like the BBC for instance (where I read this story originally), behaved. They seemed to condemn the Israeli newspaper for publishing the note, agreeing that it was private and an inappropriate journalistic act, and then proceeded to publish the note in full again. It was as if they loved the fact that it had already been published so that they could ‘justly’ do it and never get any heat for it. I could hear those British pricks giggling behind the html I was viewing (but maybe that was just my medication wearing off).

In any case, in like fashion, I too would like to show you what Barack Obama wrote, not only to allow the hypocrisy of my own story to come full circle, but also to note the fact that the presidential candidate was obviously prepared for such an occurrence. Why do I say that? Because there is nothing particularly personal on his note that could ever be construed as embarrassing or problematic or able for anyone to take issue with. It was a fluff note – obviously sincere – but nonetheless, a fluff note. Nearly anyone could have written it:

Lord – Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

Personally, I would have loved to see a, “Let me kick John McCain’s old, white, wrinkly bitch-ass come November.”

What do you think about this whole situation?

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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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Around the World Pic of the Day: Dome of the Rock

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And here I am, in this week’s picture of the week! Where am I? The center of the world – the spot of creation. Holy crap! Now, don’t get me wrong, do I really think that the rock under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount is the point at which God created the universe. No, of course not, but that doesn’t keep this place from having an amazing aura to it and at the very least a sensational history.

As for the lore, not only was this the place at which God supposedly began the creation of the universe, but it’s also where the Jews eventually concluded that Abraham tried to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). This place is supposed to be the land of Moriah – the place connected to where God punished King David for taking a census of the people (does that seem like a good reason to kill 70,000 people?). After seeing the destruction he was reaping, God relented and ordered his angel to stop killing everyone. The place God stopped the angel’s hand was the same place the angel stopped Abraham’s hand from killing Isaac which was over the future site of Jerusalem – and here, on what is now the Temple Mount, was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. David bought it, built an altar and sacrificed animals there to God.

In the exact spot of this altar, King Solomon built the first Temple to God, destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and here the Temple was rebuilt sometime in the fifth century BCE, only to be made huge and beautiful by Herod the Great, visited by Jesus himself – who was not pleased by the money changing he saw going on but did teach some lessons (wish I could have been there) – and eventually destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE after a huge Jewish revolt (The Great Revolt).

The Romans built a temple to the god Jupiter on this very site in order to piss off the Jews and after 135, another Jewish revolt (The Bar Kochba Revolt), the Jews were forbidden from ever visiting the area. By the time the Byzantines took over from the fourth through sixth centuries, the site was turned into a garbage dump in order to demonstrate Christian thoughts about the Jewish Temple. Not until the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and still only 60 or so years after that (though Muslim histories will claim that it was Omar, the Muslim conquerer of Jerusalem who built it) was the site cleared and the Dome of the Rock constructed. Due to upkeep and repairs it has stood there ever since the end of the seventh century.

Amazing that one building has been there for over 1300 years. Jerusalem, for the Muslims, is the third holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is never mentioned by name in the Koran, but a number of references are tied to it. After the 1967 War, known in Israel as the Six Day War, the Temple Mount (Har Ha Bait) as it is known to Jews, was taken and has ever since been under Jewish control, though the Dome of the Rock is still there – and rightfully so.

Now, for some opinions:

The Dome of the Rock has every right to continue standing on the Temple Mount. That beautiful building has been there for a long time, as I mentioned, and should not just be destroyed because Jews (and Christians) want a Third Temple there. Indeed, a Third Temple is a bad idea. Why?

First of all, the Temple implies that there will be a resumption of the animal sacrifice that went on there, which is ludicrous. Jews do not need to start sacrificing animals. Talk about bad additional press. Most of them don’t really understand that modern rabbinic Judaism was actually an attempt to function as a religion without sacrifice when the Temple had been destroyed. So what happens to rabbinic law once sacrifice resumes? Serious problems.

Moreover, from a security standpoint, it’s great that the Dome of the Rock is there because during Israeli-Arab wars, Arab and Muslim countries won’t fire rockets at Jerusalem for fear of their inaccuracy destroying the holy site. That’s a pretty sweet security measure.

So why do Jews and Christians want a Third Temple built? To bring the Messiah of course. Jews just think it will be some dude that can only come with the building of the Temple, and Christians obviously think that it will result in Jesus’ second coming. Supposedly the Messiah will rise over the Mount of Olives and walk through the Lions’ Gate, followed by the recently risen dead of all those buried close. Right…

This is why some of the world’s biggest advocates of bulldozing the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Temple are American conservative Christians. They’re the ones who are in the process of breeding a red cow (needed for sacrifice) so that we’ll be totally ready when the time comes and Jesus can return as soon as possible.

Frankly, though, holy, historical sites should not be destroyed and we should all try to get along better, perhaps putting the site itself under international control and allowing visitors only at certain hours so that the site can be maintained for Muslim worship throughout the day.

Interestingly, school children’s classrooms are up on the Temple Mount and they play soccer in its gardens. It’s a fascinating place and it should be left alone to the designs of history – not deliberate interference.

What do you think? Destroy it and rebuild the Temple? Bring on Jesus? Ever been there? What’d you think? Send me your pictures at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com and visit http://www.thezenofsouthpark.com for more.

South Park Tonight: the 10 pm episode, “Grey Dawn,” has a great speech by Father Maxi at the memorial service towards the beginning of the episode where he talks about God’s warped sense of humor when He has old people kill others with their cars. Great and poignant. Do we really need to make up ways of understanding God when we don’t understand why things happen?

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