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Zakat

Islam

Islam (Photo credit: rogiro)

The religion of Islam contains 5 pillars of fundamental belief and practice. Zakat (see below) is mentioned in the Koran and in Hadith literature. The practice was initiated by the prophet of Islam, Mohammed.

  1. Ash-Shahada – the belief in only one God.
  2. Salat – daily prayer, with body facing Mecca, taking place at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nighttime.
  3. 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.
  4. Zakat –  giving alms to the less fortunate, the amount being 2.5% of one’s total income.
  5. 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.
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Zeno

Paradox Cafe by Jamie Campbell via Flickr

Zeno (c. 495 BCE) was a Stoic philosopher best known for his nine surviving paradoxes.¹

The two most popular paradoxes are:

1 – Zeno asks how many grains of millet must fall before a sound is heard. One fallen grain makes no sound on impact, therefore it accounts for “nothing.” A second grain (a second “nothing”) might also make no sound. But suppose a third grain (a third “nothing”) is added to the two grains and this does make a sound. This would result in a “something” (audible sound) being made out of three “nothings.”

2 – The great runner Achilles can never catch a slower tortoise in a race if the tortoise begins ahead of Achilles. By the time Achilles reaches the tortoise’s starting point, the tortoise has moved to a new position. And by the time Achilles reaches the tortoise’s new position, the tortoise has moved on to another position. The distances between the two may become increasingly small but the tortoise always remains a fraction ahead of Achilles.

Philosophers still debate the import of the Achilles paradox but its solution might be simple. The problem seem to arise from Zeno’s use of logic divorced from actual observation.

The student of vectors will observe that a higher-velocity object gaining on and moving in the same direction as a lower-velocity object will at some point overtake the slower moving object. Not so complicated.

The Tortoise and the Hare - Project Gutenberg ...

The Tortoise and the Hare – Project Gutenberg etext 19993 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Zeno imaginatively ‘stops motion’ to observe the competitors in a series of equally imaginative points to say that Achilles will never reach the tortoise’s position. And this act of imagination doesn’t correspond to what actually happens in observable reality.

Among other things, Zeno’s paradoxes illustrate how thinking about problems and their apparent solutions can be influenced, limited and distorted by our use of symbol systems like language, logic or mathematics—especially when divorced from empiricism.

Still, he remains significant in the history of ideas because he was thinking out of the box and imagining new scenarios. Sometimes this works well, as with Einstein. But the difference is that with Zeno, we find limited conceptualizations and a lack of empirical support for his ideas.

With the first paradox, for instance, we might say that a grain of millet makes no audible sound but, in actual fact, it does create a disturbance in the air (a wave pattern) when it hits the ground. Today, this could be measured, amplified, and thus demonstrated to actually make some sound. So it’s not a “nothing” as Zeno would have thought in the ancient world.

¹ Scholars actually debate just how many paradoxes Zeno authored. But for the sake of simplicity I’ll go along with the Wikipedia entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno%27s_paradoxes

Related Posts » Achilles, Heap of Sand Paradox, Semiotics, Signifier, Signified, Stoicism


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Zeus

List of Ancient Greek temples

List of Ancient Greek temples (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zeus is the son of the Titan Cronus and Titaness Rhea. He is the chief of the second generation Greek gods, and is usually arrayed with thunderbolts and an eagle.

By the time of Homer he became most powerful deity in the Greek pantheon. As an overseer of cosmic justice, he protects property, receives prayers and sacrifices, and punishes transgressors.

Because he was so influential, he ironically had a relative few polis (city) festivals in his honor. Polis festivals were generally reserved for lesser deities, like Athena or Apollo, who presided over a particular city.

Zeus had many offspring with several different goddesses, his most famous partner being Aphrodite. Also, he apparently had amorous relations with his young male cup-bearer, Ganymedes.

The mythologer Robert Graves says

The Zeus-Ganymedes myth gained immense popularity in Greece and Rome because it afforded religious justification for grown man’s passionate love for a boy.¹

Zeus (Crop)

Zeus (Crop) (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

According to NeoPlatonist thought, Zeus doesn’t sit at the top of the all-time divinity charts. Instead, the NeoPlatonists lowered his rank from his previous status as King.

Zeus’ Roman equivalent is Jupiter. Many scholars agree that the name Zeus has deep roots extending back into Vedic India. But they rarely suggest that the Greek form could radically differ from the Vedic form. This Wikipedia entry, for example, says “The god is known,” which arguably implies equivalence instead of potential difference. And that’s a real problem with academic studies of religion. The possibility of experiential difference is often ruled out (or simply ignored) among different religions and/or religious developments.

The god’s name in the nominative is Ζεύς Zeús /zdeús/. It is inflected as follows: vocative: Ζεῦ / Zeû; accusative: Δία / Día; genitive: Διός / Diós; dative: Διί / Dií. Diogenes Laertius quotes Pherecydes of Syros as spelling the name, Ζάς.[10]

Zeus is the Greek continuation of *Di̯ēus, the name of the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky, also called *Dyeus ph2tēr (“Sky Father”).[11] The god is known under this name in the Rigveda (Vedic Sanskrit Dyaus/Dyaus Pita), Latin (compare Jupiter, from Iuppiter, deriving from the Proto-Indo-European vocative *dyeu-ph2tēr),[12] deriving from the root *dyeu– (“to shine”, and in its many derivatives, “sky, heaven, god”).[11] Zeus is the only deity in the Olympic pantheon whose name has such a transparent Indo-European etymology.[13]

The earliest attested forms of the name are the Mycenaean Greek , di-we and, di-wo, written in the Linear B syllabic script.[14]

¹ The Greek Myths, Combined edition, London: Penguin, 1992, p. 117.

Related Posts » Aesculapius, Aliens and Extraterrestrials (ETs), Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Castor and Pollux, Demeter, Dionysus, Dyaus, Fates, Hera, Hercules, Hermes, Hesiod, Jupiter, Muses, Odin, Olympians, Orphic Mysteries, Persephone, Poseidon, Shapeshifter, Titans, Tyche


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Zodiac

Zodiac (Greek: zoidion, an image of an animal)

Image via Wikipedia

The Zodiac is derived from the visible part of the night sky, divided into 12 equal portions (each 30° of celestial longitude based on the ecliptic). It contains the 12 major constellations associated with the 12 major signs of astrology, as well as the 12 major stages of transubstantiation as outlined in medieval alchemical lore.

The zodiac was in use by the Roman era, based on concepts inherited by Hellenistic astronomy from Babylonian astronomy of the Chaldean period (mid-1st millennium BC), which, in turn, derived from an earlier system of lists of stars along the ecliptic.[1] The construction of the zodiac is described in Ptolemy‘s vast 2nd century AD work, the Almagest.[2]

The term zodiac derives from Latin zōdiacus, which in its turn comes from the Greek ζῳδιακὸς κύκλος (zōdiakos kyklos), meaning “circle of animals”, derived from ζῴδιον (zōdion), the diminutive of ζῷον (zōon) “animal”. The name is motivated by the fact that half of the signs of the classical Greek zodiac are represented as animals (besides two mythological hybrids).

Although the zodiac remains the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system in use in astronomy besides the equatorial one,[3] the term and the names of the twelve signs are today mostly associated with horoscopic astrology.[4]

Astrology has been variously championed, questioned and lampooned, but in India commercially obtained horoscopes are frequently used to determine suitable marriages, a practice stemming back for decades.

As Calcutta grew in size and the social composition of the city became more mobile and diverse, matrimonial advertisements and marriage bureaus that served the function of matchmaking as well as various other types of marriage-related services such as matching horoscopes seemed better suited to the needs of the urban householder. In fact, many matrimonial bureaus combined the task of brokering marriages with astrological functions. Advertisements such as the following littered contemporary newspapers and journals: “Undertake marriage negotiations of respectable families-Jyotirbid Pundit K. Samajpati B. A. (Medical Astrologer)-Residence, 4 Guruprasad Chaudhury Lane, Calcutta” (Amrita Bazar Patrika, November 14, 1929, n.p.). Others were even more precise, stating, “if you send your date, year, and place of birth to the address below, you will be provided with your horoscope at the lowest possible price-Sri Motiranjan Kabyatirtha, P.O. Sarutiya, Jessore” (Bijali, February 18[1922]:6).²

Related Posts » Alchemy, Aquarius, Aries, Cancer, Capricorn, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Pisces, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Taurus, Virgo

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zodiac

² Rochona Majumdar, “Looking for Brides and Grooms: Ghataks, Matrimonials, and the Marriage Market in Colonial Calcutta, circa 1875-1940,” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 63, No. 4, (Nov., 2004: 911-935), p. 920.


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Zoroastrianism

Fire in the fire temple, burning allegedly for...

Fire in the fire temple, burning allegedly for 1000 years (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zoroastrianism is an Ancient Persian religion founded around 1200 BCE by Zarathustra.

Its sacred scripture is the Avesta, which has some affinities with the older Hindu Rig Veda. The Avesta portrays an eternal struggle between pure goodness and evil, personified by Ahura Mazda (Good) and Angra Mainyu (Evil).

Fire is taken to be holy and a perpetual flame is maintained by temple priests who wear masks to prevent polluting the fire with their breath. This notion of spiritual pollution is especially important to Zoroastrianism.

Jamsheed K. Choksy suggests a complex interplay among biological, psychosocial and spiritual factors when outlining the Zoroastrian belief that ritual space is pure, as opposed to impure or “polluted” normal space.

Access to ritual spaces had never been equally available to all the faithful, irrespective of gender and class, especially because of considerations relating to purity and pollution. In Zoroastrian society, a wide range of items categorized as pollutants–from bad thoughts, false words, and harmful deeds to bodily fluids when released–are ascribed power to vitiate the efficacy of rituals paces, rites performed herein, and participants. So direct access to performances within pure space was and is generally restricted to duly initiated, purified members of the hereditary male clergy during propitiatory rituals, and to purifiers and candidates for cleansing during purificatory rituals. In the absence of priests, male and female members of the laity–especially religiously learned individuals–may perform basic rites.¹

The Muslim conquest of Iran in the 7th century threatened the extinction of Zoroastrianism but the religion has survived in limited numbers with the Gabars of Iran and Parsees of India.

¹ Jamsheed K. Choksy, “To Cut off, Purify, and Make Whole: Historiographical and Ecclesiastical Conceptions of Ritual Space” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 123, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 2003: 21-41), p. 30.

Related Posts » Ahriman


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Zarathustra

Cover of "2001 - A Space Odyssey (Two-Dis...

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Zarathustra (also Zoroaster c.1200 BCE ?) was an ancient Persian prophet who fled his homeland because of his controversial religious convictions. He ended up in eastern Iran under the protection of King Vishtaspa, who embraced his teachings.

Zarathustra’s dialogue with the Lord, Ahura Mazda, is recorded in the sacred scriptures known as The Avesta, a text based on an oral tradition of roughly 1000 years.

The surviving scripture we have today is somewhat fragmentary, seemingly contradictory in places and only a part of the original.

Classical Greek writers called Zarathustra Zoroastres

The Romantic German composer Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, used in the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, was influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche‘s philosphical work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which itself was influenced by the Persian prophet.

Today, the Bahai faith recognizes Zoroaster as a manifestation of God, along with several other prominent religious teachers. While this kind of thinking is no doubt well-intentioned, it runs the risk of watering down real differences among religions.

¹ From Wikipedia: Zoroaster’s name in his native language, Avestan, was probably Zaraϑuštra. His English name, “Zoroaster”, derives from a later (5th century BCE) Greek transcription, Zōroastrēs (Ζωροάστρης),[2] as used in Xanthus‘s Lydiaca (Fragment 32) and in Plato‘s First Alcibiades (122a1). This form appears subsequently in the Latin Zōroastrēs and, in later Greek orthographies, as Zōroastris. The Greek form of the name appears to be based on a phonetic transliteration or semantic substitution of the Avestan zaraϑ- with the Greek zōros (literally “undiluted”) and the Avestan -uštra with astron (“star“). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroaster

Related Posts » Ahriman, Zoroastrianism


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Zombie

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Zombies are usually taken as the fictional living dead, sometimes called the ‘undead.’ The idea apparently originates from Haitian voodoo legends. Zombies are found in B-movies (notably The Night of the Living Dead), the horror genre, folklore, urban legend, music videos, video games and even academic papers. And various alleged explanations of the phenomenon seem closely related to belief.

Turrell Wylie notes, for instance, that some believe “a zombie is a corpse which has been brought into a state of animation through supernatural power by a necromancer.”¹ Another understanding is that a person’s soul is magically stolen by a master of the dark arts, making the victim appear to be dead. The buried body is later exhumed by the soul-thief; the body then becomes a spiritual slave to the evil master.

Folklorist Alison Jones says that Haitian law actually prohibits burying and exhuming live persons, which has lead some to believe that evil voodoo priests use poison to induce a coma in their victims.² This leads to a variant from primarily paranormal beliefs. Combining the occult and the pharmacological, some believe that, after exhuming a poisoned comatose victim, a wicked voodoo priest then subdues his victim with psychedelic drugs. The victim is then trapped in a drug-induced slavery.

zombies on the orange line by James Calder

zombies on the orange line by James Calder via Flickr

An even more horrific variant of the zombie legend suggests that victims’ flesh is sold by sorcerers for human consumption. This is apparently easy to recognize because human flesh decomposes faster than animal meat. In such instances the victim’s soul wanders the land in the hope of witnessing or bringing about retribution.

Mythologist Stuart Gordon says the term zombie originates from the African Congo word zumbi, which means ‘enslaved spirit.’ Gordon adds that souls bound by a wicked master cannot discern good from evil.³

Philosophers tend to be interested in the idea of zombies from a purely hypothetical standpoint. For instance, E. J. Lowe asks what a being would be like who looks and acts like a human but lacks “the light of consciousness.” Moreover, Lowe asks, quite seriously, whether such a being could exist at all.4 As Lowe puts it:

It may be difficult to determine whether zombies really are possible, but the issue undoubtedly has far-reaching implications for the metaphysics of mind.5

Image via Tumblr

In pop  culture, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video has become something of a modern classic in Zombie lore, along with science fiction ideas like the Borg. More recently, the idea of a “Zombie Apocalypse” has taken off, capturing the imagination of many.

¹ Turrell Wylie, “Ro-Langs: The Tibetan Zombie” in History of Religions, Vol. 4, No. 1, (Summer, 1964: 69-80), The University of Chicago Press, p. 69.

² Alison Jones Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore, New York: Larousse, 1996, p. 468.

³ Stuart Gordon, The Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends, London: Headline, 1993, pp. 760-761.

4 Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd Edition, ed. Ted Honderich, Oxford: 2005, p. 970.

5 Ibid.