The Bauls are the wandering devotional minstrels of West Bengal, India. They belong to a longstanding bardic tradition that poetically glorifies God while rebuking worldly hypocrisy. Many practice left hand tantra. And living off alms, they are the peace, love and freedom “hippies” of West Bengal.
Today their timeless songs may be heard on trains and at public fairs called melas. The Bauls’ poetry had a tremendous influence on the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, the outstanding Bengali figure who founded the open air, asram-style Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan.
But perhaps most important about the Bauls, they manage to accept people from both Islam (Sufism) and Hinduism (Vaishnavas) in a country where the tension between these two religious groups is usually so thick you could cut with a knife.
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- Fatimah is the daughter of Mohammed who, among certain Shi’ite Muslim groups, has become an object of veneration, arguably with some similarities to the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) in Catholicism.
- In Portugal Fatima is a town with a shrine of the BVM where it’s believed that Mary appeared to three young children in 1917, a claim apparently supported by countless miracle stories.
Islam [Arabic: surrender] is the religion of Muslims, based on the text of the Koran (or Qur’an).
Islam contains 5 pillars of fundamental belief and practice:
- Ash-Shahada – the belief in only one God.
- Salat – daily prayer, with body facing Mecca, taking place at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nighttime.
- Sawm – fasting that is obligatory at puberty and also during the 9th month of the Islamic year (Ramadan), believed to be the period when the Koran was written. Eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.
- Zakat - giving alms to the less fortunate, the amount being 2.5% of one’s total income.
- Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Moslems are obliged to take at least once in a lifetime. Hajj ideally is taken on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic year.
The Sunni branch of Islam is comprised of about 85% of contemporary Muslims and is often regarded as orthodox form of this religion.
The Shi’ite branch, mostly in Iran, Persia and partly in Iraq, represent about 10% of today’s Muslims.
Historically speaking, the Shi’ites and Sunnis split over a disagreement about the legitimacy of Mohammad’s successors (Caliphs)—not entirely unlike the Protestant refusal to recognize the authority of the Catholic Papacy.
The mystically based, unorthodox branch of Sufism arose partly as a reaction to the beliefs and standardized practices of orthodox Islam. In response, aspects of orthodox Islam have been critical of Sufism, especially in regard to the Sufi belief that a person can be “one” with God.
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In Islam, an Imam is the leader of a religious devotional ceremony held in a mosque. Unlike priests, Imams are not ordained. They may be any male from the community, providing they are of trustworthy character and high social status. Larger mosques, however, often retain a regular, paid Imam.
Historically, the Imam also refers to charismatic leaders of the Shi’ite group. The term can also signify a prominent community leader, equal in status to a caliph, and usually a theologian.
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Gordon D. Newby, however, suggests that this definition is simplistic. The jihad, he says, can be divided into two types—the lesser and the greater jihad.
While the lesser jihad may involve armed conflict against evil†, it doesn’t always. Different Muslim groups have different views about the necessity of violence. And some see jihad more in terms of missionary activity.
The greater jihad, Newby says, involves a personal struggle against the evil influences within oneself. Just as in other religions we hear about “spiritual warfare,” this type of jihad is about combating evil within the self.
A third type of jihad, mentioned at Wikipedia, involves the struggle to make society better. And some say that any kind of righteous struggle can be a “jihad” of sorts. For instance, some called Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle against British colonialism a “jihad.”
For more on this controversial concept, see Newby’s entry for jihad in A Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (pdf).
† Newby doesn’t qualify this idea. But most would say that the understanding of “evil” is something that can be influenced by human bias.
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In Islamic folklore and religion Jinn (or genies) are supernatural beings sharing with human beings the agency of free will. They live in a world parallel to ours, and may help or hinder humanity.
coolguymuslim bashes the negative Judeo-Christian (and Hollywood) stereotypes about the Jinn by adding that
They are not necessarily bad or evil. They are another of God’s creatures who are being tested as humans are. They are made of smokeless fire as humans are of clay. There are ethnicities, religions, and other divisions amongst jinn just as there are amongst humans.¹
Although they can be disruptive to human affairs, Jinn may be harnessed for heavy labor. Solomon, for instance, used them as helpers (Qur’an 27.17). And a person at the point of dying may be converted into a Jinn.
Gordon D. Newby says that Jinn are unlike angels because of their capacity to sin. In some folkloric tales they sit on the walls of heaven to try to hear what the angels and God are talking about. And shooting stars result from angels throwing things at them, trying to drive the Jinn away.²
In the Qur’an Iblis (i.e. the devil) is said to be both a Jinn and an angel. This has lead to much commentary about the nature of Jinn and angels among Muslim scholars.²
From a traditional Judeo-Christian point of view Jinn are often regarded as familiar spirits or demons. However, the Arabic word Jinn doesn’t appear in the Hebrew old Testament—it only appears in translations from the original Hebrew.
In Judeo-Christian tradition, the word or concept of jinn as such does not occur in the original Hebrew text of the Bible, but the Arabic word jinn is often used in several old Persian and Arabic translations.
In several verses in those Arabic and Persian translations, the words: Jinn (جن) Jann (الجان) Majnoon (مجنون) and Iblis (ابلیس) are mentioned as translations of familiar spirit or אוב (obe) for Jann and the devil or δαιμόνιον (dahee-mon’-ee-on) for Iblis.
In Van Dyck‘s Arabic translation of the Bible, these words are mentioned in Lev 19:31, Lev 20:6, 1Sa 28:3, 1Sa 28:9, 1Sa 28:7, 1Ch 10:13, Mat 4:1, Mat 12:22, Luk 4:5, Luk 8:12, Joh 8:44 and other verses as well. Also, in the apocryphal book Testament of Solomon, Solomon describes particular demons whom he enslaved to help build the temple, the questions he put to them about their deeds and how they could be thwarted, and their answers, which provide a kind of self-help manual against demonic activity.³
From a Jungian standpoint, the morally ambiguous Jinn might be comparable to the idea that the power of the archetypes is neither negative nor positive in itself. It’s the relationship to the ego that’s key.
² See Gordon D. Newby, A Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Oxford: 2002, pp. 86-87, 116-117 (pdf online book).
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Not unlike characters from the mythic hero cycle, he was orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandfather. When his grandfather passed away, his uncle became a surrogate father and raised him as a merchant.
At 24 years Mohammed served a wealthy widow, whom later became his wife. Mohammed, however, was developing into a contemplative person and believed he was being called to introduce a new faith, one which would build upon and perfect the earlier religions of Judaism and Christianity.
After 600 CE he believed he had received divine revelations from the angel Gabriel, commanding him to preach this new religion, and the Koran was revealed to him.
Different Islamic traditions variously elaborate on the belief that he had received divine revelations. Some say that he was initially upset but his wife and Christian cousin consoled him.
Shia Muslims believe, however, that he was not distressed but rather, anticipated and welcomed the revelations from Gabriel.
According to Welch these revelations were accompanied by mysterious seizures, and the reports are unlikely to have been forged by later Muslims. Muhammad was confident that he could distinguish his own thoughts from these messages.¹
When the Meccans opposed him, Mohammed fled to Medina in 622 CE and became supreme arbitrator and ruler. He then instigated war against his opponents–that is, against enemies of the new religion.
He conquered Mecca in 630, where he was seen as prophet-ruler of all Arabia. In 632 CE he made a final pilgrimage to Mecca. On Mount Arafat he articulated the ritual surrounding such pilgrimages (Hajj).
Back at home, he fell ill and died in the company of Ayeshah, one of his nine wives, and the daughter of an early disciple, Abu Bekr.
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Mecca is the city holy to Islam located in west-central Saudi Arabia, 64 km East of the Red Sea port of Jeddah.
Mecca is the birthplace of Mohammad and home to Kaba, the most important shrine for Muslims. Approximately 2 million Muslims pilgrims journey to Mecca every year.
Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the city, a rule enforced by airport security and roadway checkpoints.
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Malcolm X (1925-65)
Formerly Malcolm Little, he was arrested and imprisoned for burglary. While in jail Little converted to The Nation of Islam, a religious group founded in Detroit.
At one point in his career he taught that whites were devils, inferior to blacks and doomed to disappear from the globe. In his own words:
Thoughtful white people know they are inferior to Black people. Even [Senator James] Eastland knows it. Anyone who has studied the genetic phase of biology knows that white is considered recessive and black is considered dominant.¹
This strange and hostile brand of scientism was based on the teachings of Fard Muhammad (1891-?), the controversial founder of The Nation of Islam.
Watched by the FBI, Fard Muhammad claimed that the morally inferior “blue-eyed devils” would be destroyed by the appearance of a space ship, an event that would mark global Armageddon.²
Little came to take up the new name “Malcolm X” and ultimately became a Sunni Muslim and black leader, believing that Islam was the religion of choice because it was non-racist.
Malcolm X also advocated a black nation – that is, racial segregation – in the southern USA.
Later, however, his views became more moderate. Instead of focusing on a separate black nation he became a spokesman for human rights, especially among blacks.
Malcolm X toured the United States promoting black solidarity and was assassinated in 1965 by a group of three rival Muslims in Harlem. Since then he has become something of an icon for political activists, artists and pop musicians.
To this day he remains controversial. Some see him as a racist and black supremacist with leanings towards violence. Others see him as one of the greatest and most influential blacks in American history, inspiring figures like Muhammad Ali, liberation movements like Black Power and emancipatory slogans such as “Black is Beautiful.”
² Melanie King, Prophets, Seers & Visionaries, 2009, p. 130.
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The term sufi (Arabic: mystic) is likely based on the root suf (wool), recalling the simple woolen garments worn by ascetics.
Sufism is often regarded as an unorthodox type of Islamic mysticism.
While Westerners might think Sufis are itinerant holy men wandering through remote deserts, Sufism became an organized movement around the 7th and 8th centuries, mostly in reaction to the worldly Middle-Eastern Umayyad dynasty.
The well-known Dervish orders arose in India around the 12th and 13th centuries. These emphasized ecstatic states and remained influential until quite recently.
The Sufi Al-Hallaj (CE 858-922 ) advocated the mystical union of the individual soul with God, was branded a heretic, imprisoned and later executed.
The essence of Sufism might best be expressed by the 13th-century and increasingly popular poet Jala ud-Din Rumi. Rumi’s verse can be found in New Age bookstores and his message prefigures Joseph Campbell‘s dictum of follow your bliss.
» Islam, Prayer, Sikhism
- “Surfin’ with Sufis” (expands on this entry)
On the Web:
- Excellent entry at Wikipedia
- Try http://ias.org too. Good information there and they are non-sectarian and non-denominational Muslims (Buzz Kill)
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