Quran Read Along: Al’-Imran 190-200 – The Message of the Final Verses

Nature Ex Nihilo
The opening verse here is very philosophical in its nature, insinuating that written all throughout nature is evidence of God – we only have to know what we’re looking at. That is to say, everything comes from God and the reason there is so much harmony in nature and things are designed as they are is because it is all divinely planned.
A few examples regarding the absurd construction of natural things often pop into my head when people talk about how perfect nature is, but setting these things aside, nature certainly is wondrous and the argument of God being behind its design is a most necessary one religiously for a great many people.
The terminology here makes me want to confirm, though: does Islam believe in creation ex nihilo? Islam has a strong philosophical tradition, and much of that philosophy champions the notion that the cosmos are eternal. What is the traditional Islamic line about that notion?
The Conclusion of Al’-Imran
Verse 195 holds quite a promise and a reassurance for the downtrodden. The notion of suffering in God’s name is one I associate generally with Christianity, as it is a religion focused almost obsessively on suffering. This is not a focus of Islam, or at least I haven’t found that to be so, but it makes sense that God would promise those who do happen to suffer for righteous reasons a stake in the afterlife. “Efface their bad deeds” sounds like “sin forgiveness,” another concept I associate with Christianity.
Pointing out these similarities is not meant to undermine what is written here by applying a syncretistic bend to it, but merely to say that it is rather logical that these religions born of the same impetus (people who needed more than they were getting) and of the same God are to emphasize these inherently humane notions: all will be okay for those who are good yet suffer. When we think, why do bad things happen to good people, the Quran replies, God straightens it all out in the end.
My thoughts incline towards the fact that these are the concluding verses of Al’-Imran. Why? Are they a warning to the new Muslim community not to ultimately misinterpret this revelation as the religions before it misinterpreted theirs’? Verse 199 certainly seems to champion this notion as it provides the other side of this coin: that there are those of earlier revelations who have remained true to said religions and who deserve the same recompense as Muslims in the hereafter.
Please add what you can to our understanding of these final verses of Al’-Imran!
Al’-Imran 190-200
190. Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 191. [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire! 192. “O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world]; and such evildoers will have none to succor them. 193. “O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice call [us] unto faith, `Believe in your Sustainer!’ – and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds; and let us die the death of the truly virtuous! 194. “And, O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou hast promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not on Resurrection Day! Verily, Thou never failest to fulfill Thy promise!” 195. And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer: “I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labors [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other. Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil, and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in My cause, and fight [for it], and are slain – I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards.” 196. LET IT NOT deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth seem to be able to do as they please on earth: 197. it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal – and how vile a resting-place! – 198. whereas those who remain conscious of their Sustainer shall have gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: a ready welcome from God. And that which is with God is best for the truly virtuous. 199. And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer – for, behold, God is swift in reckoning! 200. O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!

Nature Ex Nihilo
The opening verse here is very philosophical in its nature, insinuating that written all throughout nature is evidence of God – we only have to know what we’re looking at. That is to say, everything comes from God and the reason there is so much harmony in nature and things are designed as they are is because it is all divinely planned.
A few examples regarding the absurd construction of natural things often pop into my head when people talk about how perfect nature is, but setting these things aside, nature certainly is wondrous and the argument of God being behind its design is a most necessary one religiously for a great many people.
The terminology here makes me want to confirm, though: does Islam believe in creation ex nihilo? Islam has a strong philosophical tradition, and much of that philosophy champions the notion that the cosmos are eternal. What is the traditional Islamic line about that notion?
The Conclusion of Al’-Imran
Verse 195 holds quite a promise and a reassurance for the downtrodden. The notion of suffering in God’s name is one I associate generally with Christianity, as it is a religion focused almost obsessively on suffering. This is not a focus of Islam, or at least I haven’t found that to be so, but it makes sense that God would promise those who do happen to suffer for righteous reasons a stake in the afterlife. “Efface their bad deeds” sounds like “sin forgiveness,” another concept I associate with Christianity.
Pointing out these similarities is not meant to undermine what is written here by applying a syncretistic bend to it, but merely to say that it is rather logical that these religions born of the same impetus (people who needed more than they were getting) and of the same God are to emphasize these inherently humane notions: all will be okay for those who are good yet suffer. When we think, why do bad things happen to good people, the Quran replies, God straightens it all out in the end.
My thoughts incline towards the fact that these are the concluding verses of Al’-Imran. Why? Are they a warning to the new Muslim community not to ultimately misinterpret this revelation as the religions before it misinterpreted theirs’? Verse 199 certainly seems to champion this notion as it provides the other side of this coin: that there are those of earlier revelations who have remained true to said religions and who deserve the same recompense as Muslims in the hereafter.
Please add what you can to our understanding of these final verses of Al’-Imran! Al’-Imran 190-200
190. Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 191. [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire! 192. “O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world]; and such evildoers will have none to succor them. 193. “O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice call [us] unto faith, `Believe in your Sustainer!’ – and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds; and let us die the death of the truly virtuous! 194. “And, O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou hast promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not on Resurrection Day! Verily, Thou never failest to fulfill Thy promise!” 195. And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer: “I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labors [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other. Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil, and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in My cause, and fight [for it], and are slain – I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards.” 196. LET IT NOT deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth seem to be able to do as they please on earth: 197. it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal – and how vile a resting-place! – 198. whereas those who remain conscious of their Sustainer shall have gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: a ready welcome from God. And that which is with God is best for the truly virtuous. 199. And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer – for, behold, God is swift in reckoning! 200. O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!

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In South Park episode 402, “Tooth Fairy Tats 2000,” Kyle Has an Existential Crisis

The first few episodes of season four – and even episodes later in the season (410, 411) are about Cartman’s attempts at earning 10 million dollars. One such idea includes becoming the Tooth Fairy and stealing all the money that parents leave their children for their teeth. But that’s not the fascinating part about this episode.

When Cartman learns that the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, he also questions the reality of Santa Clause, and, more interestingly, Jesus. It’s a natural leap. So too is the conclusion that Kyle draws when Cartman reveals the truth to him. Are Moses and Abraham real, he asks his father. The best answer Mr. Broflovski can muster is, “probably.”

This sends Kyle spinning into an existential crisis, wondering what reality is, what truth is, and what he can believe that his parents have told him. He starts reading numerous philosophy books, one of which is about Buddhism and Taoism. He starts wondering if real and not real are the same thing, and about more fascinating enigmas until he realizes that he controls his entire reality and causes himself to dematerialize.

Upon rematerializing, Kyle concludes:

“You see, the basis of all reasoning is the mind’s awareness of itself. What we think, the external objects we perceive, are all like actors that come on and off stage. But our consciousness, the stage itself, is always present to us.”

Great stuff. Did you like this episode? What was the best ‘philosophic’ moment?

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Zen Talk: Parker and Stone’s Alan Watts Animation Teaches of the Middle Ground and Banishing Black and White

Before seeing these videos, I wasn’t aware of Watts or his work, but I must admit that, despite accusations by other scholars of eastern religions, Buddhism and Zen that Watts fetishized and oversimplified Zen for the sake of sharing its philosophy, I really enjoy these mini lectures and the accompanying videos.

As I said Friday, I’m going to be talking about the video I posted then; to watch this video before reading the article, click HERE.

This video begins by telling us about the presumption that there are two types of people: prickly, practical ones, and gooey, sentimental ones. The world, Watts explains, is often perceived in a polarized fashion. We see one thing as black and the other as white, one thing as good and the other as bad, one thing as prickly and the other as gooey. It’s just a fact of our thinking that we pair and perceive in opposites. But, Watts tells us, the world is not so dichotomous. No person is entirely one thing, whether prickly or gooey.

Interestingly, psychology and personality studies reveal something similar. As friends and acquaintances characterize one another, researchers have found that people are often described in opposing ways. Moreover, when individuals try to characterize themselves as one thing, they find that they can also, at times, act in an opposing manner. People are not uni-characterizable, to use a term that doesn’t exist. They are complex, acting one way in certain situations and opposite ways in others.

Using his Zen predilections, Watts makes us realize that the world is not so easily divided into blacks and whites, but must be understood as gooey prickliness, and prickly goo. Now, it is often fetishized about Zen and Buddhism that there is no belief in good and evil or other similar dichotomies, but this is untrue. However, Watts doesn’t say that this is so and we can hardly accuse him of oversimplifying what he hasn’t. Rather, he is making a point about the nature of life and people in an attempt to break down our insistence on characterizing other people along such strict lines, and insisting that we are unable to relate to them.

What did you get out of Watts’ lecture and the accompanying video? Did you like it? Do you think it oversimplifies or does it make you think? What about?

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To read about “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” and the fetishization of eastern thought, click HERE.

Parker and Stone Animate the Lectures of Zen Philosopher Alan Watts

Today for movie/book review day, we’re going to try something a little bit different than we’ve been doing. Instead of reviewing a movie or book, I’m going to provide you with a very short ‘movie’ to watch on your own.

The movie was made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators and writers of South Park, and animates a short lecture of the Zen philosopher and thinker, Alan Watts.

It’s only 2 minutes long and I’d like you to watch it and think about it and leave your comments below if you like. Then, on Sunday, Zen Talk day, I’m going to leave my thoughts for you on the video so make sure to stop back by and check them out and watch the video again. They can be worth repeated views. Trust me.

Did you like the video? What did it make you think about? To read my thoughts about the video, click HERE.

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Imaginationland, Director’s Cut Edition, Sunday Night at 10: The Debate Between Imaginary and Real

Like you, I’ve seen the commercials for the Imaginationland spectacular that’s coming up this Sunday night. What’s the difference between the three episodes aired week after week and one long sit-down? I have no idea, other than the time between commercials. Will there actually be never before seen footage? It’s entirely possible, but I wouldn’t know.

Do you know anything about it?

Last week the Imaginationland trilogy was nominated for an Emmy – South Park‘s eighth, god bless them – and perhaps this has something to do with that, though I’m unaware of the specifics in scheduling decisions. Since Matt and Trey aren’t big on pandering to the Emmy-Hollywood-Celebrity crowd, I’m pretty skeptical that the two are related, though I am sure that Comedy Central is interested in grabbing a third Emmy for its most popular, highest rated and most watched show (are all those the same thing?).

I, for one, absolutely love the Imaginationland trilogy. It’s brilliant. At first I wasn’t too keen, because towards the end of the first episode I didn’t see it wrapping up to a point, but upon realizing that it was more than a single episode – and then three episodes! – I became enthralled by the depth to which the entire trilogy was taken and the sensational points that arose out of it.

Imaginationland is about the existence of the make-believe – how real imaginary things are. This hour and a half of philosophical speculation interwoven seamlessly with a plot about Kyle finally having to lick Cartman’s particularly vinegary nuts – How do you like your sundays Kyle? With extra nuts? – is nothing short of genius.

From the perspective of The Zen of South Park, Imaginationland adds particular vibrancy because the understanding that imaginary things – like many of the religious figures we revere, and even, say, maybe, God – are real and can have far more importance and influence than tangible things has a dual effect. At once it provides us with historical fodder while simultaneously affirming the fact that historicity can be far less important than perception. For instance, haven’t people like Superman or Jesus, with their values of justice and the importance of fighting for truth been more influential and important than almost every other person? What about Luke Skywalker – imaginary – vs. Mark Hammell, tangible. Skywalker is more important (by far) and has had far more of an impact on the world. Can we really say that just because he’s imaginary he isn’t really real?

If you haven’t seen it or if you have, I highly recommend that you plunk down in front of your tv this Sunday night at ten and take a look at Imaginationland – and potentially an extended version, at that.

Have you seen it? What’s your favorite part? What do you think about this debate between imaginary and real?

For more going on in the world of South Park, check out my quick question about the South Park video game, HERE. Don’t forget, a review of Step-Brothers is coming later this afternoon (and hopefully X-Files sometime soon!).

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Robert Mugabe is a Worthless Asshole

As some of you may know, Robert Mugabe, former and unfortunately-now president of Zimbabwe, has been reelected (although using this word here is the equivalent of shitting all over the concept of elections) by a landslide after a run-off in which he ran unopposed. Why unopposed? Because his opponent who won the original election (Mugabe refused to stand down), a proponent of democratic change and running on that principle, stepped out of the election after 90 of his supporters were murdered by Mugabe’s forces and boycotted it generally because it was wrong and unfair.

Mugabe will be president of Zimbabwe for nearly three decades, and he is a giant piece of undemocratic shit. Look, democracy may not be the greatest or most viable system out there – some of the greatest Greek philosophers insisted that it was an enlightened monarch (that is to say, a Philosopher King) – but in a country that has elections, you should abide by the results, not be a giant piece of crap and a big baby when you lose and then use the military to force decent voter turnout in a sham rerun against no one because you murdered his supporters.

The world is shaking its puny, polio-ridden, malformed wrists in a less than menacing fashion. The African Union opposes this. Ooooo. Ban Kee Moon is not happy. Ahhhh. President George W. Bush has threatened sanctions and UN action. Yikes. Desmond Tutu, archbishop of Cape Town, wants international forces to restore order and the new rightful leader of Zimbabwe, officially ending Mugabe’s 28 year reign. I doubt that will happen, but it raises fascinating questions.

On the one hand, I think that the world should intervene because if a just and democratic world (though you could hardly call it that) doesn’t stick up for the oppressed everywhere then what good is it pretending like we do. On the other hand, should we respect states’ rights and not interfere in internal matters that aren’t bordering on genicide or genicidal (not that we even do that when we should). Frankly, I don’t think there’s any consistency to the action based on principle. Only on interest. That is to say that we would only be interfering physically in Zimbabwe if we had some serious reason to oust a government that didn’t support our endeavors. But this isn’t Cold War geopolitics anymore so even those interest-principles are harder to come by. In short, it’s a complicated series of events and interests that would lead to interference in Zimbabwe and though the world may shake its fists at Mugabe’s unjust and undemocratic treatment of the populace, it probably won’t do anything.

Do you think the world should interfere? How should it do so? If not, why? Are principles reason enough to invade or just kick Mugabe out? What if the U.S. had to act unilaterally? Is this the U.N.’s job?

Status Update: We’re no longer moving in where we thought we were – realized it wasn’t such a good decision. We’re now staying in a Kimpton hotel in downtown San Fran while we continue searching. Cyrus is here and we will search about, having left Sunnyvale because our friend came back home. Any suggestions on where to look or live? We’d love some help.