Islamic art: We look at it, we admire it, but how much do we know about it and why should we bother?
Not only is Islamic art beautiful, it tells us about the past and the future. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today and it is predicted to become the only religion. Islam is rigid, disciplined and aimed at survival. That said, as things stand we, as a people, are undisciplined and destroying everything around us. We no longer have prophets to save us. Even the Torah notes the importance of Muhammad as the last prophet. Many people make judgements about Islam based on false information. Sometimes what is promulgated as Islam is really just political and fundamentalist. The true Islam is in the Quran.
There is a discussion of crime and punishment in the Talmud that reminds me of the modern notion of deterrents. Do they work? The evidence suggests they do not work. From the position of psychotherapy deterrents fail to work because what drives us to action is not always a matter of conscious awareness. We are by and large, not rational human beings, we tend more towards the emotions and the chemicals that thrive on drama and challenge, the same chemicals that make us creative individuals and keep us alive. “An eye for an eye” appears to be a suitable form of natural justice, but it does not take account of the power relations that sit beneath almost all forms of harmful activity. As Freud pointed out, we are taught to love our neighbour, but who truly loves their neighbour when they throw rubbish into your yard or they keep you up all night with heavy metal music? Love becomes a false premise! I spent several years working in criminal justice in the belief that regardless of the crime, every human being has a right to dignity and fair treatment. Retribution in any form does not resolve the underlying features that create societal problems which are grounded largely in inequality and a lack of opportunity to thrive. All crime and retribution is, in my view, a form of neurosis because it takes place in the context of fear. There are some people who commit offences regardless of their social disposition because they are fully embedded into a competitive capitalist system and need to express emotionally as well as physically. The system itself generates immense fear in the minds of those who must live in it. Society creates its own criminals, but rather than address the aetiology of the offence we punish the perpetrators because it provides a feeling of being in control. However, the reverse is true. When we demand rights, we do not consider the number of new laws we need to enforce them. The more laws we have the more incentive to break them. The very nature of this duality insists that when one side of the duality gains more power the other must rise to match it. Studies have shown that when perpetrators of crimes are forced to confront their victims to explain why they committed the offence, the discussion is far more effective for behavioural change than locking someone up in detention. This is a hard process for the victim, but it also opens the pathways for healing because it is only when we confront our worst fears that we can be truly healed.
I recently finished reading a book called We’ve Never Been Alone by Paul Von Ward who is a Christian minister. He is not like any Christian minister I have met before. He writes about what he calls Advanced Beings (ABs).
Von Ward reviews the sacred texts, myths and old legends as well as contemporary data to suggest that all knowledge, historical, archaeological, scientific and more, have been brought to us from extraterrestrial visitors from other planets. This sounds very fanciful, but it is a highly scholarly work of some 400 pages and therefore not easy to dismiss.
Von Ward states that governments, religious leaders and scientists know about the ABs, but they have chosen to ignore it. He states that there is a covert struggle for the control of human consciousness and this is why the knowledge has not been made public.
I do see such a struggle taking place for the capture of consciousness. I have spent many years studying consciousness and its various levels of insight and manipulation. To this end, Von Ward states that we still have contact with the Advanced Beings, but no one will admit to it, because it would significantly cause a change in human consciousness. One Advanced Being, Von Ward identifies is God. This contact happens, states Von Ward, through Divine Revelation as in the visions of prophets. What Von Ward is really saying is the Prophets (and other ABs arrived from another dimension, universe or planet and they came in large numbers to teach us via Divine Revelation.
With regard to Islam Von Ward writes, “modern Egyptian society almost totally consists of an Islamic culture unrelated to that of ancient Egypt. Rather, it can be traced to a metaphysical encounter in the year 610 CE between a human from a Kuraish tribe and an AB”. There is no mention of how the writer traces this encounter. Von Ward goes on to say: “From Mecca Mohammed reported that the Angel Gabrial appeared to him in several visions and instructed him to propagate a new religion. By 630 CE a group of believers had organised themselves and they took over the City of Mecca giving birth to Islam. The writer tells us that after this, any future prophets were imprisoned as imposters and knowledge of Advanced Beings was blocked out, (this from a Christian Minister)? Wow!
Von Ward states the aforementioned events across the globe caused a split between the natural and supernatural and this in turn resulted in a split in human consciousness, which today moves between neurosis and psychosis.
I agree with the social and psychological diagnosis, there is a split between the natural and supernatural and of course this impacts the human psyche on many levels. As far as we know, no such split takes place in other animals, in this dichotomy of mind, we humans are unique.
Now I will get to my point.
What I find interesting about Islam, is the teachings are not Platonic, but are grounded in Aristotle and his naturalism, this takes place while Christianity embraces supernaturalism and the esoteric as does Judaism in the Kabbalah. I am not opposed to some forms of supernaturalism. The human mind cannot perceive everything, but timing is everything.
Aristotelian naturalism is the metaethical theory most often associated with contemporary virtue ethics. In this view, moral goodness is a form of natural goodness, which is a sort of species-relative goodness that applies in the evaluation of living organisms. Nature, according to Aristotle, is an inner principle of change and being at rest (Physics 2.1, 192b20–23). This means that when an entity moves or is at rest according to its nature this may serve as an explanation of the event.
How does the Quran bode with Aristotle’s explanation of a natural event? For example the Big Bang has a natural scientific explanation, not an esoteric one. It rests on certain principles. In contrast, for Christianity the science of evolution, otherwise universal expansion, is considered as blasphemy against God’s Creation. There is no identifiable natural principle here, only the esoteric.
Mohammed was said to be illiterate, but today we know that there are different states of mind (different levels of cognition) where different forms of learning take place.
Today, we have some of the highest levels of autism that the world has ever scientifically calculated. Yet, how we understand this depends on our own perception of what autism is and is not. As a general view the autistic brain is one that thinks differently. How is this related to the above discussion? Evolution and human development depends of the knowledge that is available.
In this sense autism is not a disability, but a different ability.
Let me qualify this further, by saying, different thinking may not be caused by a difference in brain capacity, there may be many other reasons for difference, including societal and spirituality.
With this view in mind, I would like to believe that spirituality is part of our evolution, not something to be abandoned or attributed to visiting Advanced Beings.
Do I believe in Von Ward’s proposal? I cannot say, I am keeping an open mind.
There is great joy and peace to be found in spirituality, whether taught by ABs or whether it comes naturally.
Many are turning away from the old religions and finding new ones.
Islam stands as an interesting example. Islam is in a state of revival. Before the Iranian Revolution hardly anyone in the western world knew anything about Islam. Today, it is the fastest growing religion next to atheism. Can this be attributed to ABs? Do we all share part of an AB legacy? Who knows?
We should love animals because we too are animals. Living on Land for Wildlife has provided me with some important lessons about nature and the creatures that inhabit it. Animals might share our landscape, sometimes courtesy of fashion or, hopefully in loving kindness, but wild animals are entitled to their own domain and it is gradually being taken away from them. We are losing a precious part of our worldly existence, the pleasure of seeing animals in their own environment. In removing animal habitat, we change the landscape and invite plagues and feral species and we turn passive animals into dangerous predatory creatures. Some years ago, I lived up in the forested mountains of a small town called Warburton. It is a picturesque town, which is today a mecca for tourists. When I lived there it was a timber town and the ancient forests of mountain ash, streams and water falls were being decimated by the forestry industry. One could say, okay, we need timber, our cities were built on forest timber, but this harvesting of timber that I speak of, was being shredded for woodchip and exported abroad. So much timber was taken that it sat on the docks for weeks before there were enough vessels to transport it. Harvesting the timber in gluttonous amounts was not the only problem, it was being harvested from a water catchment area, which provided the fresh water for the City of Melbourne. Battles over this harvesting ensued for years and they are still ongoing. Watching the logging trucks steaming through the town was difficult enough, but when the forest coup was cleared what was left in debris was set alight and burned to ashes. This was the most painful experience of all because every small animal emerged out of its burrow frightened and confused and one had to stand helpless and watch as these creatures tried to find an escape from the smoke and flames. There were snakes, wombats, possums, birds and more, often burned alive. We love our pets, we fight to save them, but how much do we love and fight to save our wildlife? It takes a mass population to hold influence over the multinational industries that destroy our lands. Those who do protest are up against some of the most powerful corporations in the world. We are called the “greenies”, we march in protest, campaign outside public buildings, climb tall bridges to hang protest banners and the rest. We are beaten up, spat upon, kicked, hit and abused, but still we protest. I got too old to protest. I have been protesting since the 1960s. Now I just pray and thank G-d for giving me my own small plot of land so I can have a sanctuary for some of the wildlife. I feel truly blessed and not a day goes by when I do not feel as though I am in my own piece of Paradise and those animals, often thought to be dangerous, live with me in harmony on my land.
The Corona virus has been difficult, but in Australia it has not been nearly as bad as elsewhere. Added to this, I have tended to place the cause of pandemics into the environment in which they take place. What are we doing to this beautiful planet? I am trying to glean some insight of this problem from the daily readings of the Talmud. “Yes”, I am an environmentalist, sad and angry at the treatment of G-d’s magnificent world. Let me pose a proposition gleaned from an image in the Talmud of the cow pierced by a needle.
The world is made of of living organisms from the largest to the smallest. When we cut down the trees in the forest we can see the harm, the animals lose their habitat, their food supply is diminished, they get killed on the roads while searching out a new home. When we poison the rivers we see the dead fish by they wayside. They look back at us with open mouths, wide eyes and watery gills. When we look at a polluted pond, what do we see? Foam and poisons line the perimeters, perhaps a green algae floats on the top of the water, but we do not see what is underneath, the tiny microbes that make up a healthy ecosystem.
Water acts as a sink for a number micro organisms that are harmful to humans. When the pond dries up or the environment changes many of these organisms escape. They get into the air or into our food. Sometimes they get carried on the backs of animals or birds. However they are transported these are the organisms that make people sick. What do we do in response to this dilemma? We search for a medicine, a vaccine, but when do we clean up the pond or the environment….NEVER.
I saw the cow and the needle piercing its stomach in my sleep. I live adjacent to a diary farm, one of the cruelest industries on the planet. At birth the calves are ripped from the mothers. Their cries can be heard some distance away. the females are kept the males are killed. Their tails are cut off, because they get in the way of milking and the animal is left without a weapon against flies and insects, of which there are many in Australia. The animal is milked until every last drop is squeezed from the udder, leaving it red and often bloodied and congealed.
The needle in the cow reminded me of factory farming, not just of cows but all creatures whose role it is to satisfy the appetite of we humans. As we try to decipher the rules of what is pure and impure in the Talmud, might there not be room for considering the plight of the unvoiced creatures whose lives never extend beyond servitude.
We are taught that slaughter must be carried out humanely, but why slaughter at all, when clearly the cow as food makes no economic sense in a world where so many people go hungry for the sake of a hamburger and a life of rank gluttony and obesity in the west.
I live on Land for Wildlife, just one acre near the south east coast of Australia. Many creatures live here from snakes and lizards to possums and some of the most beautiful birds in the country. It is rolling hills, very green in winter and dry in summer. There is a woodland and a wetlands. The garden is full of trees and beautiful wild flowers with the occasional rose because I can’t live without my roses. It was while walking through the woodlands on the property that I began thinking about the animals in Jewish history. There are many, too many for one painting. Nevertheless, I and decided to gather a few creatures together on a canvas 60 x 80 cm .The work is in oils. It is a reminder to be kind to all creatures.
For decades now nations have being going to war over the need for oil. Almost everything we use in this modern world requires oil. Most mining and manufacturing also requires huge amounts of water. We reached a point in history where we were told oil would peak and it would not be available at a price people could afford. There were predictions of a return to the Dark Ages. There was no mention of the water. We took the water for granted. The apocalyptic oil depletion discourse was truly mind blowing, we all started to collect our plastic and we began recycling it. In rich countries we recycled water with desalination plants, but they are expensive to build and to run. Water across the world is becoming scarce. The cost of water is rising. The fight over oil has become a fight over water. It can only get worse if we in the rich world do not help those who are poor. We will both be at war. This will be the real and final apocalypse. We cannot live without water. How we take our clean water for granted. I have been to places where there was only one well to serve a whole village and the water came up brown and full of sediment. The situation is much worse. The entire world is running out of clean drinkable water. It is happening in places where water was abundant. The oceans are being polluted, the mountains and springs are running dry. We must change our priorities and take care of our world, we must better assist our poorer nations and we must preserve every single drop of water and not waste it on frivolous goods and entertainments. Clean water is a gift. We must honour it.
Any history of the mandala should include Hebrew magic. Talismans were made and sold to clients to bring good luck in love and business. Even the renowned Israel Baal-Shem-Tov, the founder of Chassidism made a living from selling talismans. There were various magical alphabets used including one said to be connected to angels. The texts were often incorporated into symmetrical mandala patterns with circles and suns that had shapes pointing from the centre outward into the universe.