THE NEAR EAST
31 July 2011: Note -- Ramadhan now has its own page.
Abraham Casts out the Egyptian slave-woman, Hagar,
with their firstborn son, Ishmael
[For more art, see the many links on the Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah pages.]
27 November 2001
As a cultural mythologist, I look at events through the lens of myth and depth psychology. To do this, I first ask myself: "What's the underlying myth, story, sacred narrative, or archetype at work here? Where's the intense energy coming from? How might it be transformed? -- can it be?" It's become a habit. Sometimes the answers seem too simple, sometimes too hopelessly mired in complexity, and I have to abandon them. Nevertheless, I continue to approach things in this way because, whatever else they are, the answers are always interesting and the clues inherent in them suggest possibilities of opening up new strategies along the way.
I cannot create a page on Islam without first considering Islam and the other two desert-born monotheisms in the context of the often virulent enmity between them. When I do this, the answer to my question comes swiftly: the underlying "fuel"originally came from two women and the wife-swapping that went on when Sarah knew she was too old to bear Abraham his promised son. In other words, at the heart of this "sacred narrative" lie two women in a deeply conflicted relationship with a man over an heir.
The story is well known: Sarah sent her young Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, to the bed of her husband. Hagar, we might imagine, was young, exotic, and "experienced," or at least Sarah probably thought so. This slave, after all, came from Egypt, and everyone knows about the loose ways of those women.
Hagar conceived and bore a son, Ishmael. Only after that boy had been his father's delight for several years did Sarah herself become pregnant and bear Abraham's younger son, Isaac.
In the Jewish world, it is assumed that it was Isaac whom God later demanded as a sacrifice. To prove his faith, Abraham led his son to a mountain top, bound him to an altar, and prepared to plunge a knife into his breast. At the last moment, God provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice and the youth was spared.
In the Islamic world, it is assumed that the boy was Abraham's firstborn, Ishmael.
In the Christian world, this matters because the story of the sacrificial son foreshadows Jesus. Christians, following Jewish tradition, accept Isaac as the son. In the case of Jesus, of course, there was no eleventh hour ram-substitution. He died, according to Christian dogma, in order to save others as "God's lamb."
But what if it were Ishmael, not Isaac, who was nearly sacrificed? What if Jesus, the firstborn, were more correctly linked to Ishmael, also a firstborn? Both sons suffer exile from their own people; both their mothers are pierced with sorrow. In shifting the sons' identities like this, nuances change and open up new depths.
Again, to return to the well known story: as Isaac grew in years, Sarah became jealous and resentful of Hagar and her son. Did Hagar flaunt the fact that she was mother of the firstborn heir? Probably -- as a slave, she was without power in her own right. Having a son gave her a "loaned" power. Old Sarah must have feared for her own child and hated the young, strong, nubile Hagar and her son.
I'm not blaming the two women, nor am I blaming Abraham. But their story shows how one-sided patriarchal structures operate: patriarchy honors women who birth future male leaders into that structure and then they foster envy and competition among the mothers of these sons, twisting women's natural loyalties to one another, thereby further strengthening male-rule. It's a pernicious process but it's been part of human history for so long that we accept it as "natural." Certainly, Sarah did.
Sarah asked Abraham to cast out the two. Abraham obeyed, sending them to certain death in the scorching desert. If the older boy were indeed the child who escaped God's sacrificial demand, it is sobering to realize that he could not escape Sarah's. What Abraham felt in his heart, we are not told.
Sarah Watching the Expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael
God, however, was unwilling to lose this mother and her child. As they lay dying of thirst, God sent an angel bearing a vessel of water. Their strength was revived and they found their way to safety.
Arabs trace their origins back to Hagar and Ishmael (lit., "God hears"). Hebrews are the children of Sarah, descending through the son Sarah bore Abraham in her old age: Isaac (lit., "laughter," for Sarah laughed in disbelief at the angel who told her she was pregnant).
When I look at the Islamic world today, I see the children of Hagar, many as desperate and impoverished as Hagar and her son were; but others are truly as powerful as angels, yet they are not helping their people with the mercy shown by God's angel to Hagar. They look only to their own power.
When I look at the Jewish world today, I see Sarah's children, many of whom in the past have suffered as terribly, sometimes even more so, as Hagar's children. But today their lot is vastly improved and many are also as powerful as angels. But they too look only to their own power.
Both sides of Abraham's family-tree have had multiple dealings with angels. Yet neither Sarah's wealthy children nor Hagar's wealthy children seem to know how to behave as merciful angels, even though the same God gave clear examples to both.
If it began with two women, might it be that today's women hold the key? Why couldn't powerful, caring women from this family-tree organize a Sarah / Hagar Foundation? If they could work through ancient and bitter betrayals, in a contemporary context, perhaps the immense, secret energy-pool, if you will, of that raw emotion could finally be healed. This means that it would no longer be able to keep overshadowing and feeding Abraham's raging male descendants. Then today's Sarahs and Hagars could figure out a clever way to manipulate their men into reversing the ancient trajectory of violence. Only then might new pathways of peace be revealed, transforming outgrown enmity into a new communal compassion and tolerance.
Calligraphy in Bold Farsi
The verse refers to Islam's prophet, Mohammed:
His perfection procured exaltation,
His beauty dispelled the darkness,
All his attributes were good ones,
Pray for him, and for his family.
Kind permission to use art and text comes from the
Islamic and Arabic Arts and Architecture Organization.
(See below under "Arts & Sciences" for annotation.)
[Added 27 November 2001]: This is a handsomely designed site with a basic introduction to Islam -- useful if you need a quick overview. Hypertext will take you to a second brief page on the "Five Pillars of Faith." (Also see below under Ramadhan.)http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/islam/islamsbook.html
"Internet Islamic History Sourcebook": this is a huge, educationally-focused collection of links from Fordham's Paul Halsall on Islam, both ancient (including pre-Islamic Arabia and Persia) and modern, country by country, issue by issue (including Sufi mystics, also the role of women). It could take you weeks to explore this site.http://www.stg.brown.edu/webs/quran_browser/pqeasy.shtml
[Added 28 November 2001]: From the "Scholarly Technology Group" (STG) and Richard L. Goerwitz at Brown University comes the Quran Browser Basic Home Page, one of many projects undertaken by this group. You can view the Quranic passage of your choice by entering its sura number and verse or you can get a list of passages containing a particular word or part of a word. You can select from three translators: M. M. Pickthall, Abdullah Yusufali, or M. H. Shakir. It's an impressive offering.http://www.islamicresources.com/Prominent_Muslims/Others/fatimah_bint_muhammad.htm
[Added 1 December 2001]: From the Islamic Scholar comes a page that offers data, part biography/part legend, on the life of Muhammad's youngest daughter, Fatimah. Muhammad had six children, four daughters and two sons -- both boys died in infancy....Fatimah was the fifth child of Muhammad and Khadijah. She was born at a time when her noble father had begun to spend long periods in the solitude of mountains around Makkah, meditating and reflecting on the great mysteries of creation....The moving site describes a life of hardship and turmoil in which the child often defended her father against his enemies. Her three older sisters left for wealthy but ill-fated marriages. Fatimah herself was eventually married to a good but poor man, and her struggles continued. She bore two sons, then two daughters -- all survived:...It was only through Fatimah that the progeny of the Prophet was perpetuated. All the Prophet's male children had died in their infancy and the two children of Zaynab [a sister]named Ali and Umamah died young. Ruqayyah's [another sister]child Abdullah also died when he was not yet two years old. This is an added reason for the reverence which is accorded to Fatimah....When her father died, Fatimah mourned deeply:...Fatimah was grief-stricken and she would often be seen weeping profusely. One of the companions noted that he did not see Fatimah, may God be pleased with her, laugh after the death of her father.
One morning, early in the month of Ramadan, just less than five month after her noble father had passed away, Fatimah woke up looking unusually happy and full of mirth. In the afternoon of that day, it is said that she called Salma bint Umays who was looking after her. She asked for some water and had a bath. She then put on new clothes and perfumed herself. She then asked Salma to put her bed in the courtyard of the house. With her face looking to the heavens above, she asked for her husband Ali.
He was taken aback when he saw her lying in the middle of the courtyard and asked her what was wrong. She smiled and said:
"I have an appointment today with the Messenger of God."
Ali cried and she tried to console him. She told him to look after their sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn and advised that she should be buried without ceremony. She gazed upwards again, then closed her eyes and surrendered her soul to the Mighty Creator.
She, Fatimah the Resplendent One, was just twenty nine years old.
The Arts & Sciences
"Illuminated heading with Surat al-Fatiha (The Opening; I:1-7).
This Koran was donated by Shaban II (1363-76) to his foundation in 1376...."
From Art Of The Mamluks, by Dr. Esin Atil
(Smithsonian Press, 1981 -- see IslamiCity directly below)
[Added 27 November 2001]: From IslamiCity comes a lovely page featuring brief data and art from a 1981 book, Art Of The Mamluks, by Dr. Esin Atil, curator of Near Eastern art at the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. About the Mamluk Empire (1250 - 1517 AD), Atil writes:http://islamicart.com/...[I]n 1250 AD, the Mamluk sultans established a formidable empire, ruling Egypt, Syria, and Palestine for more than two hundred and fifty years, their frontiers extending from southeatern Anatolia to the Hijaz and incorporating parts of Sudan and Libya. Soon after coming to power, they defeated the mongols and explled the last of the Crusaders from the Near East....The website offers photos of Mamluk metalwork as well as gorgeous illuminated manuscripts (see above for a sample from the Qur'an):...The exquiste illuminations, calligraphy, and bindings of Mamluk Korans are unequaled in any other Islamic tradition of bookmaking....
[Added 27 November 2001]: This is the home page for the "Islamic and Arabic Arts and Architecture Organization." The home page is deceptively simple -- it gives you just four category choices: Architecture, Calligraphy, Coins, and Oriental Rugs. However, just as Islamic architecture often presents a plain face on the exterior and stunning beauty within, so too does this site. Each section offers a series of intelligent, thoughtful, well-researched essays (with sources noted) as well as gorgeous images. I spent an hour here and barely scratched the surface. Be warned <smile> -- this one's addictive. It's also well worth your time.http://www.levity.com/alchemy/islam.html
[Added 28 November 2001]: This fascinating site looks at Islamic science, with a special focus on ancient and medieval alchemy and medicine. The opening page gives you links to a series of carefully detailed (usually footnoted) papers by various Egyptian scientists. In addition to Islamic alchemy, some of the essays also look at the roots of alchemy in ancient Egyptian science.http://www.ummah.org.uk/science/
[Added 28 November 2001]: This is a more modest British page on Islamic science, but nonetheless absorbing, especially considering that all five of the featured scientists date from the 9th century. The five essays are fairly lengthy and detailed, although unfootnoted. (For more of these essays on later Muslim scientists, go to: http://www.ummah.org.uk/science/viewbysctopic.php?scTopicID=6&scTopic=Muslim)http://islamicity.com/education/culture/
[Added 28 November 2001]: This is IslamiCity's Education and Culture page -- ignore the busy clutter and just explore wonderful scholarly links, archived 19th century photos of mosques, and the wide-ranging categories of culture, history, calligraphy, arts, and architecture. It's a real treasure trove. (FYI: go to the home page for daily news, live Taraweeh prayers from Makkah or Al-Jazeera News Channel TV clips, etc).http://www.sufism.org/Feridun/main.html
This site features contemporary Islamic calligraphy/art -- quite lovely. The artist is Feridun Özgören and the title of the page is "The Art of Ebrû." The thumbnails don't convey the vitality and power of the full-sized work -- click on them to see for yourself.
[Added 28 November 2001]: This is a fairly basic page on the Sufis -- it covers some of the early history and also takes a brief look at three of the most famous Sufis: Mawlana Jalal'ud-din Rumi (usually just called Rumi in the West); Ahd al-Qadir al-Jilani; and the early female mystic, Rabi'a al-Adawiyya. About the name, Sufi, and the origins of the movement:http://www.al-islam.org/beliefs/spirituality/suffism.htmlThe name 'Sufi' come from the Arabic word 'suf' meaning 'wool', referring to the rough woollen clothing worn by the Sufis as a sign of giving up the luxurious life of the world such as food, shelter and dress and accepting simplicity and poverty....
...The doctrines of Sufism are derived from the Qur'an and Islamic revelation. Sufism makes use of paradigms and concepts derived from Greek and even from Hindu sources. But despite any borrowings and influences from exterior sources, the essence of Sufism is purely Islamic....
...The Sufis' religion was mystical. They desired to be one with God and believed in a large number of saints. They also believe that they can communicate with God through these saints, without whom the universe could not exist.
Sufis have always existed in Islam, but the great Sufi movement began a century after the Prophet's lifetime. The eminent Sufis travelled widely to different parts of the world to preach Islam....
[Added 28 November 2001]: This is "Beliefs & Practices: Suffism and Islam" by Al-Hajj Mulla Bashir Rahim, Resident Alim of Wessex Jamaat, Hampshire, UK. The essay is a careful defense of Sufism against those who see it either as a corruption of Islam or as an alien movement that originated in Jewish and Christian desert mysticsm. In arguing that Sufism, far from being a corruption, has been woven into Islam from the beginning, the author quotes passages from the Qur'an as well as from other sacred Islamic texts. Then the author turns to the second claim:http://www.sufism.org/society/index.html...[Many] do not accept that sufism has a direct link with Islam and reject the idea that it has evolved from the consciousness inspired by the Quraan or the teachings of Muhammad. They affirm that its origin is firmly embedded in the mysticism of the Jew and Christian hermits and monks of the time and that their traditions not only inspired but also dictated the evolution of sufism.About this, the author observes wisely:The historical links between the three major monotheistic faiths makes it inevitable for a measure of similarity in the spiritual experience in each of them and this commonality of experience is seen by many enlightened scholars as an important factor which might be constructively employed for engendering a better understanding between the three communities....After considering a number of theological and gnostic complexities, the author explores the evolution of Sufism and several Sufi mystics, including Mansur Al-Hallaj, executed in 922 AD; Mawlana Jalal'ud-din Rumi, born in Balkh in present day Afghanistan in 1207; the great female saint, Rabi'a (see below); and Sayyida Nafisah, the great grand-daughter of the second Imam of the Shias.
[Added 28 November 2001]: Don't even click on this page from the Threshold Society (a non-profit Sufi organization based in California) unless you have a great deal of time to explore a huge collection of wonderful papers on many aspects of Sufis and Sufism <smile>.http://www.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/pri/spirit/specials/links/233links.html
The most famous of all Sufi mystics is Mawlana Jalal'ud-din Rumi. This page comes from a radio series on Rumi done at Boston's WGBH -- it's a superb collection of links.http://www.allaboutturkey.com/sufi.htm: [Link updated 14 December 2001]
Not included in the WGBH collection is another fine page on Rumi and the Sufis from Burak Sansal in Istanbul.
[Added 28 November 2001]:This is a generally thoughtful, intelligent essay, "Women & Sufism" by Camille Adams Helminski, one of the co-founders of the Threshold Society (see above). She begins:http://mandla.co.za/al-qalam/apr97/saydoon.htm... Since the beginning of consciousness, human beings, both female and male, have walked the path of reunion with the Source of Being. Though in this world of duality we may find ourselves in different forms, ultimately there is no male or female, only Being. Within the Sufi traditions, the recognition of this truth has encouraged the spiritual maturation of women in a way that has not always been possible in the West....She then looks eloquently at the role of women from the earliest beginnings of Islam:...In the early years of this new revelation, Muhammad's beloved wife, Khadija, filled a role of great importance. It was she who sustained, strengthened, and supported him against his own doubt and bewilderment. She stood beside him in the midst of extreme difficulty and anguish and helped carry the light of the new faith. It was to Muhammad's and Khadija's daughter, Fatimah, to whom the deeper mystical understanding of Islam was first conveyed, and indeed she is often recognized as the first Muslim mystic. Her marriage with Ali bound this new manifestation of mysticism into this world, and the seeds of their union began to blossom....Finally, she turns to a lengthy discussion of female Sufi saints, mystics, teachers -- beginning with Rabi'a:... As the mystical side of Islam developed, it was a woman, Rabi'a al-Adawiyya (717-801 A.D.), who first expressed the relationship with the divine in a language we have come to recognize as specifically Sufic by referring to God as the Beloved. Rabi'a was the first human being to speak of the realities of Sufism with a language that anyone could understand....My only reservation with this essay is with the following statement that, lacking evidence, seems more sectarian than scholarly:...At a time when the goddess-worshiping Arabian tribes were still quite barbaric, even burying infant girls alive in favor of male offspring, this new voice of the Abrahamic tradition attempted to reestablish the recognition of the Unity of Being. It tried to address the imbalances that had arisen, advising respect and honor for the feminine as well as for the graciousness and harmony of nature....Implied here is that "goddess-worshipping" fosters a barbaric proclivity toward sacrificing babies of the same gender as the goddess, "in favor of male offspring." If there is indeed evidence of such sacrifices (and there may be -- I'm not an expert in this matter), then it should be clarified that "in favor of male offspring" points to a patriarchal society intent upon preserving its male heirs, regardless of whether a goddess is included among its deities. To some degree, and despite refreshing exceptions, mainstream Islam still continues this patriarchal prejudice against women, which, one could argue, marks the Islamic culture as a clear descendant of those ancient "goddess-worshipping Arabian tribes."
Aside from this lapse, I found the essay convincing and well written.
[Added 1 December 2001]: "Islam - A Women Friendly Religion" is an essay by Saydoon Nisa. It's much briefer than the preceding paper but nevertheless covers an interesting range (with examples from history as well as from the Qur'an). Here's how it opens:Women have been generally portrayed as second class citizens. Their plight is being highlighted globally and on a massive scale, daily. Major initiatives are taking place both in Islamic and secular circles to give women their rightful place in society. What is overlooked is the long history of Islam's gender equality and the many examples around the world of how Islam continues to promote women's opportunities. Early Islamic history is replete with famous women jurists and scholars. Muslim women were famous in all fields of knowledge....About Khadijah, the wife of Muhammad (also see above), the author comments:...Khadijah, the wife of the Prophet (SAW) was a successful trader. She used her wealth in the way of Islam by helping the poor, in freeing slaves and propagating the message of Islam. Khadijah was one of many women who, at that time, ran their businesses....
FOR FURTHER DATA AND LINKS ON RABI'A,
SEE MYTH*ING LINKS PAGE DEVOTED SOLELY TO HER:
Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, an 8th Century Islamic Saint from Iraq.
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Other Myth*ing Links pages of relevance:
Index of Myth*ing Links
pages relating to 11 September 2001
Near East Opening Page/Index
Menu of Myth*ing Links' Near Eastern pages:The Tigris-EuphratesRiver Valley
(also known as Mesopotamia, Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria)
Lilith Remembered: a poem by Kathy Robles
(which once covered much of modern Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel)
Anatolia & Central Asia
(which once covered much of modern Turkey & beyond to the Eurasian steppes)
The Three Desert-Born Monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity & IslamJudaismThe Crone Papers: Notes on the Mideast:
Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, an 8th Century Islamic Saint from Iraq
What Can We Do About Terrorism? by Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt. Col., USAF, ret.
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© This text is copyright 1999-2011 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
New page created & designed 26 November 2001 12:45-4am with portions transplanted
from the original Near Eastern & 3 Monotheisms pages.
Latest Updates: 27-29 November 2001 (still designing; adding new links);
1-2 December 2001 (finished new links & launched the page at 12:01am on 12/2/01; Nedstated);
14 December 2001 (2 updates); 24-25 July 2002: added new unannotated Hagar/Ishmael/Sarah art links;
16 January 2003: deleted major Rabi'a links and added link to new Rabi'a page,
which is where those links have now been transferred.
21 March 2006: added new Judaism link.
12 August 2006: added new Islamic Calendar link since others are now broken.
17 September 2009: updated Nedstat/Motigo.
3:15am EDT, 31 July 2011: deleted Ramadhan section since it now has its own page.
Note: Bar-separators are a detail cropped from a 14th century Egyptian scroll; used courtesy of Islamic Art [see elsewhere on my page for Islamic Art's home page].