Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002)

I started to reconsider the significance of the '64-'65 World's Fair theme, "Peace through Understanding" after teaching a course on Gadamer's Wahrheit und Methode (Truth and Method) in the spring semester 2003 for Ph.D. students of the University of Qom. It struck me that Gadamer's reflections on Verstehen (Understanding) contained significant insights pointing the way to a kind of engagement with others that could lead humanity away from war.

Now I have just come across an article by Richard Palmer, Gadamer's foremost American interpreter, that confirms my intuitions. Below is an excerpt from Palmer's article, "Gadamer’s Hermeneutical Openness
As a Form of Tolerance"

Gadamer’s contribution to moving toward a just society

Gadamer, we must say in advance, does not come forward with a program or concept of justice. Yet the hermeneutical philosophy of Gadamer does have something to offer, because in fact something more than tolerance is needed—something more than enduring the presence of the Other, or putting up with oppressed people who are asking for their rights, or even asking for reparations—if we are to move forward together in justice and peace. We need to understand the Other. What we need also are international rules of fairness and justice for all, not powerful states pursuing only their own economic gain through a process they call “globalization.” What is needed is a new sense of justice and respect and fairness in international trade. But where Gadamer can help us is with some principles of dialogue and a sense of what is involves in the processes of understanding and also what Gadamer calls Verständigung—reaching agreement in understanding.

A. Some Principles of Dialogue
I would like first to describe a six elements of this modest yet important
hermeneutical factor in moving forward toward agreement in understanding, and then, in a subsequent section, to examine Gadamer’s project of restoring respect [this is related to tolerance] to the humanities and fine arts.
1. eumeneis elenchoi. In entering a dialogue, one should follow the Socratic principle of good will, of eumeneis elenchoi—the other person could be right! In a genuine dialogue, like a dialogue with Socrates, one is not seeking to win an argument or to score points but to understand the other person’s viewpoint and to work out a mutually satisfactory agreement in understanding. This requires a hermeneutical openness to the other person’s viewpoint and his claims, not just openness to an ancient text and its claim. You could have something to learn from
the other person. At the end of a conversation I recently edited, Gadamer
unexpectedly replied to a classicist professor who understood him to be saying we really must go back to the ancient Greeks to find wisdom today, saying: “Yes, but perhaps we have something to learn from the East….”16 Here he is showing respect for another tradition with another history, suggesting that he could have something to learn from another culture. And this same respect we must accord a person from another tradition. This is hermeneutical openness and humility.
I am tempted to say this represents Gadamer’s most important contribution:
We must enter a dialogue with a genuine sense that the other person could be right!
This means: with an open mind. What would our problems today be like, if we entered discussions with a sense that the other person could be right? What would it be like if we entered the discussion not in order to score points in a debate, or show where the other person is wrong, but to work toward a win-win situation where both sides benefit from the agreement that is attained through negotiation.
2. Common ground. It is important to look for common ground, for things you both agree on, things you both are seeking. First carve out areas of agreement and commonality before trying to deal with your disagreements. Be willing to learn from your disagreements! This is a basic principle of dialogue.
3. Respect. Above all, treat your dialogue partner with respect. You should not demonize or dehumanize your partner or seek to undermine his or her standing or claim. No. Demonizing is a strategy of military thinking in order to justify violence and murder of the other person....
4. Tolerance. Understand the difference between intolerance, which
attacks the partner, and tolerance, which accepts differences in the partner, and which gives the partner the right to be different. Respect and appreciation of the person are lubricants of a good discussion. A dialogue is not a debate you are trying to win but a mutual effort to reach an agreement in understanding.
5. Preunderstanding and “prejudice.” One needs to understand the
difference between prejudice which belittles and discredits the “enemy” in
advance, and the term preunderstanding, a term Gadamer uses in reference to the required knowledge one needs to understand and deal with a problem. Gadamer is famous for his controversial assertion that “prejudices can be fruitful.” He could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had simply called them by the Heideggerian word, Vorverständnis, preunderstanding, instead of the usual word for prejudice in German, Vorurteil, prejudgments. What he really meant is preunderstandings. With this doctrine he is pointing out that each side brings different prior knowledge, perspectives, goals, understandings, to a discussion—a
different horizon. This occurs when one understands anything: a situation, a text, an issue, a person. A fruitful encounter brings what Gadamer calls “a fusion of horizons.” In a successful dialogue, prior understandings (Vorverständnisse) of facts, of situations, of intentions, of persons, are transformed. Again, a fruitful dialogue need not be only with the tradition and traditional texts—although this can happen—it can also be here and now with a living partner with whom you want to reach an agreement about a situation, issue, text, or the intentions of a
person. A successful dialogue brings a transformation in understanding—of oneself and of the topic.
6. Tradition and Authority. This is a difficult topic in Gadamer. He has been attacked as an unquestioning defender of tradition and authority. This is not true, because for him a dialogue with tradition involves an active use of reason to find answers to questions. It is not an unquestioning acceptance. Sometimes the answers can come from a forgotten aspect of an older tradition, because the tradition is a rich resource.
As regards respect for authority, Gadamer does not have in mind what we
call “arguing from authority” but rather recognizing the fact that authority is not always illegitimate, as certain advocates of violent revolution maintained, in the French revolution, or in the Enlightenment, or later. To prove his point, Gadamer mentions examples of legitimate authority, such as the authority of one’s teacher, one’s superior, or the expert in a field of knowledge. In these cases, one recognizes that the person “in authority” knows more and should be respected, although one is still free to question this authority with reason. But one does not
start with the presupposition that authority or tradition is simply wrong or illegitimate. Gadamer notes that we accept the authority of a doctor because we recognize that he knows more than we do. This is not a blind trust or obedience to authority but a rational recognition that it pays to follow advice and direction of someone with more knowledge than oneself.
Both Catholic and Protestant theologians found in Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics the more moderate attitude toward tradition, authority, and the texts of tradition, in contrast to the Enlightenment and 19th century scientific attitude often of categorical and intolerant rejection of tradition, authority, and the claims of religious texts on the basis of the absolute authority of science. So spelling out the conditions for dialogical openness may be a contribution Gadamer can make to
tolerance and justice.

Gadamer and Palmer

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)


TEN minutes now I have been looking at this.
I have gone by here before and wondered about it.
This is a bronze memorial of a famous general
Riding horseback with a flag and a sword and a revolver
on him.
I want to smash the whole thing into a pile of junk to be
hauled away to the scrap yard.
I put it straight to you,
After the farmer, the miner, the shop man, the factory
hand, the fireman and the teamster,
Have all been remembered with bronze memorials,
Shaping them on the job of getting all of us
Something to eat and something to wear,
When they stack a few silhouettes
Against the sky
Here in the park,
And show the real huskies that are doing the work of
the world, and feeding people instead of butchering them,
Then maybe I will stand here
And look easy at this general of the army holding a flag
in the air,
And riding like hell on horseback
Ready to kill anybody that gets in his way,
Ready to run the red blood and slush the bowels of men
all over the sweet new grass of the prairie.


In a letter to Amy Lowell, on 10 June 1917, he wrote:

I admit there is some animus of violence in Chicago Poems but the aim was rather the presentation of motives and character than the furtherance of I.W.W. theories. Of course, I honestly prefer the theories of the I.W.W. to those of its opponents and some of my honest preferences may have crept into the book, as you suggest, but the aim was to sing, blab, chortle, yodel, like the people, and people in the sense of human beings subtracted from formal doctrines.


THE Government--I heard about the Government and
I went out to find it. I said I would look closely at
it when I saw it.
Then I saw a policeman dragging a drunken man to
the callaboose. It was the Government in action.
I saw a ward alderman slip into an office one morning
and talk with a judge. Later in the day the judge
dismissed a case against a pickpocket who was a
live ward worker for the alderman. Again I saw
this was the Government, doing things.
I saw militiamen level their rifles at a crowd of
workingmen who were trying to get other workingmen
to stay away from a shop where there was a strike
on. Government in action.

Everywhere I saw that Government is a thing made of
men, that Government has blood and bones, it is
many mouths whispering into many ears, sending
telegrams, aiming rifles, writing orders, saying
"yes" and "no."

Government dies as the men who form it die and are laid
away in their graves and the new Government that
comes after is human, made of heartbeats of blood,
ambitions, lusts, and money running through it all,
money paid and money taken, and money covered
up and spoken of with hushed voices.
A Government is just as secret and mysterious and sensitive
as any human sinner carrying a load of germs,
traditions and corpuscles handed down from
fathers and mothers away back.


All in all, Sandburg was ambiguous about war. Sometimes he supported the First World War (see THE FOUR BROTHERS), and in other writings he opposed it. Sometimes he seems to be resigned to its inevitability. Still, his work warrants ranking him among America's greatest poets.



RED drips from my chin where I have been eating.
Not all the blood, nowhere near all, is wiped off my mouth.

Clots of red mess my hair
And the tiger, the buffalo, know how.

I was a killer.
Yes, I am a killer.

I come from killing.
I go to more.
I drive red joy ahead of me from killing.
Red gluts and red hungers run in the smears and juices
of my inside bones:
The child cries for a suck mother and I cry for war.



IN the old wars drum of hoofs and the beat of shod feet.
In the new wars hum of motors and the tread of rubber tires.
In the wars to come silent wheels and whirr of rods not
yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars clutches of short swords and jabs into
faces with spears.
In the new wars long range guns and smashed walls, guns
running a spit of metal and men falling in tens and
In the wars to come new silent deaths, new silent hurlers
not yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars kings quarreling and thousands of men
In the new wars kings quarreling and millions of men
In the wars to come kings kicked under the dust and
millions of men following great causes not yet
dreamed out in the heads of men.


sand2.jpg (26719 bytes)


I HAVE been watching the war map slammed up for
advertising in front of the newspaper office.
Buttons--red and yellow buttons--blue and black buttons--
are shoved back and forth across the map.

A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one
inch west.

(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in
a red soak along a river edge,
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling
death in their throats.)
Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one
inch on the war map here in front of the newspaper
office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing
to us?


Sandburg held left-wing political opinions and was district organizer of the Socialist Party and in 1910 became secretary to the socialist mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He also contributed poems and articles to The Masses, a socialist journal edited by Floyd Dell and Max Eastman.


Planked Whitefish
Carl Sandburg

("I'm agoing to live anyhow until I die."-Modem Ragtime Song)

Over an order of planked whitefish at a downtown club,
Horace Wild, the demon driver who hurled the first aeroplane
that ever crossed the air over Chicago,
Told Charley Cutler, the famous rassler who never touches
And Carl Sandburg, the distinguished poet now out of jail,
He saw near Ypres a Canadian soldier fastened on a barn door
with bayonets pinning the hands and feet
And the arms and ankles arranged like Jesus at Golgotha 2,000
years before
Only in northern France he saw
The genital organ of the victim amputated and placed between
the lips of the dead man's mouth,
And Horace Wild, eating whitefish, looked us straight in the
And piled up circumstantial detail of what he saw one night
running a truck pulling ambulances out of the mud near
Ypres in November, 1915:
A box car next to a field hospital operating room. . . filled
with sawed-off arms and legs. . .
Faces in the gray and the dark on the mud flats, white faces
gibbering and loose convulsive arms making useless gestures,
And Horace Wild, the demon driver who loves fighting and can
whip his weight in wildcats,
Pointed at a blue button in the lapel of his coat, "P-e-a-c-e"
spelled in white letters, and he blurted:
"I don't care who the hell calls me a pacifist. 1 don't care who
the hell calls me yellow; 1 say war is the game of a lot of
God-damned fools."


On "Planked Whitefish"

Jeff Sychterz

"Over an order of planked whitefish" Horace Wild relates a series of horrifying images to his friends to explain why, after voluntarily serving in France during in 1915, he now advocates peace. The detached third person narrative of Sandburg’s semi-autobiographical poem avoids rhetoric or editorializing, focusing instead on four short, stark, and largely unadorned, images. Very different from other contemporary anti-war expressions, such as "I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier," the poem can hardly be called an anti-war manifesto. However, after the poem assaults us with those four images, we understand why Wild states, "‘I don’t care who the hell calls me a pacifist. I don’t care who the hell calls me yellow. I say war is the game of a lot of God-damned fools.’" Wild tells his friends—and the poem tells us—that because of those violent "circumstantial details" of war he wears his "blue (Peace) button in the lapel of his coat."

We might say that the horrific images themselves are enough to convince anyone to be anti-war; but representations of war’s violence can cut both ways, by either encouraging people to avoid war, or to enlist. The first two images, for example, resemble alleged atrocities committed by the Germans in their occupation of Belgium, as documented in the Bryce Committee’s "Report on Alleged German Outrages": "at Haecht several children had been murdered, one of two or three years old was found nailed to the door of a farmhouse by its hand and feet . . ." (Bryce Report, Aerschot and District. Period III. [September.]) and "At Elewyt a man’s naked body was tied up to a ring in the wall in the backyard of a house. He was dead, and his corpse was mutilated in a manner too horrible to record" (Bryce Report, Aerschot and District. Period II. [August 25th.]). Some isolationist groups saw the Bryce report as propaganda designed to incite Americans against the German "Huns" and bring the U.S. into the war on the side of the Triple Entente. Whether or not the accusation is true, the Bryce Report, as well as other representations of German barbarity and cruelty, did help to sway the isolationist nation to a position of ideological support for England and France. Representations of violence, therefore, can be used to promote either war or peace.

Sandburg, however, mitigates the pro-war possibilities of his poem through passive constructions, which focus attention on the victims and leave the perpetrators unnamed. In addition, the victims are all soldiers instead of innocent civilians (although the poem does not specifically describe the castration victim as a soldier it also does not name him as a civilian, and in context with the other represented victims the reader is left with the impression that he is a soldier). The poem, therefore, represents the soldiers not as victims of a specific enemy, but as victims of war itself. War, not the Kaiser, is the enemy.

This anti-war message is relayed to the reader through an extradiegetic narrator, but the message is authenticated by the words of an eyewitness to those events, Horace Wild. In the poem Wild is represented as a volunteer corpsman or ambulance driver, "running a truck puling ambulances out of the mud near Ypres in November, 1915," despite the fact that he volunteered as a pilot in the war. The poem’s representation of Wild as an ambulance driver—his flying is even described as driving—not only helps to authenticate the images of horror he brings back—an ambulance driver is more likely to see such atrocities than a pilot flying overhead—but also to make Wild more representative of American involvement in the war.

Before America entered the war many college students, and other young men, volunteered as ambulance drivers for the French cause. Their motives for joining were varied—some for the adventure, some for a love of France (Hansen, 128-31)—but for whatever reason, American ambulance drivers garnered much media attention back home. At a time when American reporting on the war was spotty and inaccurate the ambulance drivers were regarded as invaluable eyewitnesses. Many of them wrote letters home to local newspapers; some had their personal letters and diaries published in newspapers, magazines and books; and some, who were already professional writers, wrote articles for major metropolitan newspapers (Hansen, 85-7). By representing Wild as an ambulance driver the poem capitalizes on this reputation of the driver as an insider to European violence; one who brings authentic tales of the war from the front back to the American reader.

Paradoxically many American ambulance drivers were pacifists, like Harvard novelist John Dos Passos and his classmate Robert Hillyer. But they successfully negotiated their pacifism and their desire to save France from German aggression by volunteering as non-combatants (Hansen 151-2). In the poem, however, Horace Wild never admits to being a pacifist; his statement, "I don’t care who the hell calls me a pacifist," is far from an admission like "I am proud to be called a pacifist." This statement indicates that the term carries a negative connotation; and that although Wild may not necessarily apply the term to himself, he will not argue if others do. Wild’s anti-war argument tends toward a visceral reaction to the extreme and unnatural physical mutilation of bodies rather than take a philosophical or moral stance against violence and warfare. The poem certainly assures us that he is not averse to violence: "Horace Wild, the demon driver who loves fighting and can whip his weight in wildcats . . .."

In fact the poem goes out of its way to ensure that the reader does not confuse Wild for a coward; more than that, the poem emphasizes the masculinity of not only Wild but of the whole environment of the poem. The homosocial setting is unmistakable, three male friends sharing a meal "at a downtown club," and at least two are the epitome of machismo; Horace B. Wild, who, as one of America’s first aviators, survived his share of near fatal crashes in the days when flying airplanes frequently led to crashing airplanes; and Charley Cutler, who was not only a "famous rassler," but also the 1914 National Wrestling Alliance (the earliest professional wrestling organization) champion. The odd man out is Sandburg, a poet; however by slipping in the statement "now out of jail," the poem represents even him as rough, ready and not afraid to go in harm’s way.

This, perhaps conscious, need to assert the friends’ masculinity seems to indicate that masculinity is threatened in the space of the poem. The source of this threat comes not only from the possible labels of coward or pacifist, but from the particular form that violence takes in the poem. The second violent image, "the genital organ of the victim amputated and placed between the lips of the dead man’s mouth," because of its threat of castration, particularly stands out from the other three images. However, although the threat of castration is probably enough to provoke Wild’s anti-war response, something else is particularly troubling about the image; despite the gruesome detail, it is erotically charged. Although all the images are noticeably unadorned by descriptive qualifiers—allowing the images to plainly speak their horror—the word-choice for this particular image is odd. First, the word "placed" is much more gentle than other possible verbs, such as "shoved," "forced," or "crammed." The verb bespeaks of a lack of force or violence; if the image were to contain a descriptor, one can imagine more readily the adverb, "gently" than others such as "rudely" or "roughly." Second, "lips" itself is erotically charged, both through its sound and through what it signifies: the primary non-genital sexual organ in human beings. Sandburg could have omitted this detail—saying instead "placed inside the dead man’s mouth," or even "shoved into the dead man’s mouth"—without affecting the brutality of the image.

I give so much attention to this line because I think its erotic charge complicates an otherwise straightforward anti-war message. For Wild, Sandburg and the reader to be attracted to such a repellant image is troubling, to say the least. Furthermore, the poem heightens the homoerotic tension in the following line, "And Horace Wild, eating whitefish, looked us straight in the eyes." Wild’s masticatory act not only symbolizes communion—in response to the Christ-like Canadian soldier of line five—but also repeats the indignity of the second victim. The whitefish stands in for both the flesh of the first victim and the castrated genitals of the second; symbolically, Wild fellates both victims. We can read Wild’s response to the represented violence as not only a reaction to inhuman mutilation, and a fear of castration, but also as a fear of his own homosexual attraction to the bodies of the dead soldiers—a homophobic response. Therefore, the cause and effect logic of the poem—"because of these instances of violence I am anti-war"—contains a further element: "because I am attracted to these images of violence, I find war reprehensible." Wild is horrified by his compulsion to symbolically (and perhaps literally) repeat those violent acts. Pacifism, a term often associated with women and intellectuals, paradoxically becomes a site where Wild can maintain his masculine self-image in the face of the horrifically homoerotic violence of the European war.

Works cited

Bryce, the Right Hon. Viscount, et. al. Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages Appointed by His Britannic Majesty’s Government. 15 December 1914. 26 April 2001 <>

Hansen, Arlen J. Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers in the Great War, August 1914-September 1918. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996.

Copyright ? 2001 by Jeff Sychterz



SMASH down the cities.Knock the walls to pieces.Break the factories and cathedrals, warehouses and homesInto loose piles of stone and lumber and black burnt wood: You are the soldiers and we command you.

Build up the cities.Set up the walls again.Put together once more the factories and cathedrals, warehouses and homesInto buildings for life and labor: You are workmen and citizens all: We command you.

Sandburg is pulled in different directions on the topic of war, and that in itself is instructive. On one side, there is disgust and recognition that it is in the interests of ruling powers. On the other side, there is the feeling that there is no other way and resignation to inevitability. It's the "no other way" part that needs the most critical scrutiny.

Chaiwat Satha-Anand

Inamullah Khan argues that although Islam permits fighting, it

insists that the use of force be minimal. Furthermore, the Muslim

conduct of war must be as humane as possible. A Muslim soldier

does not fight for self-glory or plunder, and he is ordered not to kill

indiscriminately. Given this mandate, Islam prohibits nuclear

weapons because they are weapons of mass destruction and can in

no way distinguish between combatants and noncombatants nor

between military targets and fields and factories.

Islam does not tolerate such indiscriminate methods. Nor

does it allow God’s creation—human lives, trees, animals, the

environment—to be destroyed. For example, the use of napalm is

unacceptable, as are explosions in department stores, hijacking and

killing hostages on any means of transportation, and bombing

civilian targets. The modern world has made primitive weapons

obsolete, but the encompassing moral sphere of Islam also renders

modern weapons morally illegitimate.

Because nonviolent alternatives do

exist, an argument can be made that for Muslims to be true to their

faith, they have no alternative but to utilize nonviolent action in the

contemporary world. The question then is whether Islam embodies

conditions conducive to the use of effective nonviolent actions.

The eight theses on Muslim nonviolent action that follow are

suggested as a challenge for Muslims and others who seek to

reaffirm the original vision of Islam so that the true meaning of

peace—the absence of both structural as well as personal

violence—can be obtained:

1. For Islam, the problem of violence is an integral part

of the Islamic moral sphere.

2. Violence, if any, used by Muslims must be governed

by rules prescribed in the Qur‘an and Hadith.

3. If violence used cannot discriminate between

combatants and noncombatants, then it is unacceptable in Islam.

4. Modern technology of destruction renders

discrimination virtually impossible at present.

5. In the modern world, Muslims cannot use violence.

6. Islam teaches Muslims to fight for justice with the

understanding that human lives—as all parts of God’s creation—

are purposive and sacred.

7. In order to be true to Islam, Muslims must utilize

nonviolent action as a new mode of struggle.

8. Islam itself is fertile soil for nonviolence because of

its potential for disobedience, strong discipline, sharing and social

responsibility, perseverance and self-sacrifice, and the belief in

the unity of the Muslim community and the oneness of mankind.

That such theses of Muslim nonviolent action are essential to peace

in this world and the true meaning of Islam is evident from the


Peace!—a Word

(of salutation) from the Lord

Most Merciful! 36:58)


Chaiwat Satha-Anand

(Qader Muheideen)

The Nonviolent Crescent:

Eight Theses on Muslim

Nonviolent Actions


Islam and Nonviolence

Edited by

Glenn D. Paige, Chaiwat Satha-Anand (Qader Muheideen), and Sara Gilliatt

Monday, June 19, 2006

Avert Evil with Good

The message is stated repeatedly in the Qur'an: repel evil by good. Yet too many Muslims seem to overlook this. There are lengthy discussions by scholars about what the mysterious letters at the beginning of some suras might signify, but comparable attention is not given to this foundational principle of Islamic ethics. Consider the verses:

(Only those who possess intellect take admonition/—those who fulfill Allah’s covenant and do not break the pledge solemnly made,/ and those who join what Allah has commanded to be joined, and fear their Lord, and are afraid of an adverse reckoning/—those who are patient for the sake of their Lord’s pleasure, maintain the prayer, and spend out of what We have provided them, secretly and openly, and repel evil with good. For such will be the reward of the abode:/ the Gardens of Eden, which they will enter along with whoever is righteous from among their forebears, their spouses, and their descendents, and the angels will call on them from every door:/ Peace be with you for your patience.”) (13:19-24)

(Repel evil by what is best. We are most knowing of what they allege.) (23:96)

(Not equal are good and evil. Repel evil by what is best, then he between whom and you was enmity will be as though he were a sympathetic friend./ But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except the greatly endowed.) (41:34-35)

(As for those who retaliate after being wronged, there is no blame on them./ The blame lies only upon those who wrong the people and commit aggression in the land unduly. For such there is a painful punishment./ As for him who endures patiently and forgives—that is indeed the steadiest of courses.) (42:41-43)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Mawlavi Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)

The way to avert calamity is not by brutality,
the way is morality, and amnesty and humanity.
[The Prophetص ] said: “Charity repels calamity;
Cure your malady with charity, O youth.”

Mawlavi Jalal al-Din Rumi
Mathnavi VI, 2590-2.
transmuted to English by
Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Surah al-Qasas

(Those to whom We gave the Book before it are the ones who believe in it) (28:52)

Here “it” is the Qur’àn, although some exegetes hold that this refers to the Prophetص .

(and when it is recited to them, they say, ‘We believe in it. It is indeed the truth from our Lord. Indeed, we were muslims before it.’) (28:53)

This is verse introduces the idea of non-denominational islam, in the sense of submission to God regardless of denominational affiliation. It is generally assumed that those who accept the Qur’àn as the truth from God become affiliated with the Muslim community and accept Islam as a religious denomination; but this assumption should be scrutinized more critically. The acceptance of Islam can take many forms and has various degrees. The verse in question is completely general about this. One may accept the Qur’an as being truth from God because one finds divine truth to be revealed in it, perhaps because one finds it to contain the basics of the message contained in the Torah or the Gospels, and not necessarily because one believes that the law of Islam should be adopted for one’s community instead of the laws of Moses (peace be with him) or Christian laws. In the previous verses there was condemnation of the pagan Arabs who opposed the message of Islam, and here this is contrasted with the reaction of those Jews and Christians who affirmed the Qur’àn as truth from God. The question is not one of orthodoxy or orthopraxy, but of the most general form of agreement with the cause of the divinely revealed religions against superstition and idolatry, the cause of justice and peace against oppression and cruelty.

(Those will be given their reward two times for their patience. They repel evil with good, and spend out of what We have provided them) (28:54)

Allàmah Tabàtabà’í interprets the double reward as one reward for having a patient faith in their own book, the Torah or Gospel, and another reward for patiently accepting the Qur’àn. Allàmah also reviews several interpretations of repelling evil with good, and concludes that the Jews and Christians who affirmed the Qur’àn resisted the evil of persecution and harassment from the pagans by practicing tolerance, fortitude and forbearance.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866)

Du bist die Ruh

Du bist die Ruh,

Der Friede mild,

Die Sehnsucht du,

Und was sie stillt.

Ich weihe dir

Voll Lust und Schmerz

Zur Wohnung hier

Mein Aug und Herz.

Kehr ein bei mir

Und schließe du

Still hinter dir

Die Pforte zu.

Treib andern Schmerz

Aus dieser Brust!

Voll sei dies Herz

Von deiner Lust.

Dies Augenzelt,

Von deinem Glanz

Allein erhellt,

O füll es ganz!

Signatur: Friedrich Rückert

You are the Rest

You are the Rest

of Peace, so sure,

Both homesickness

and its sole cure.

My eyes and heart

in offering

will not depart

from suffering.

Come close to me

and close the gate

and dwell in me

and consecrate

My heart with joy.

Within my breast

all pains destroy

save what you've blessed.

All that I view

Is brightened for

the sight of you.

O fill it more!

Muhammad Legenhausen (1953-20??)

Friedrich Rückert
(1788 - 1866)

Die Pforte der Weisheit

Weil der Prophet (s.a.s) gesprochen hat:
Ich bin die Stadt der Weisheit, Ali aber ist die Pforte,
so wollten, die sich ärgerten am Worte,
Abtrünnige von Anzahl zehn,
die Proben solcher Weisheit sehn.

Sie sprachen: Laßt uns jeder einzeln fragen,
und wird er jedem gleiche Antwort sagen,
und jedem mit verschiednem Worte,
so soll er sehn der Weisheit Pforte,
ob andern Gütern vorzuziehn die Weisheit sei, das fraget ihn.

Und als ihn so der erste fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Weisheit ist das Erbteil Gottgesandter,
Gut das Erbteil Gottverbannter.

Und als ihn so der andre fragte:

Hüten musst du deine Güter,
doch die Weisheit ist dein Hüter.

Und als ihn so der dritte fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Güter sind durch Weisheit zu erwerben,
Weisheit nicht mit Güter zu vererben.

Und als ihn so der vierte fragte
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Güter kannst du nicht dem Dieb verhehlen,
Weisheit kann dir keiner stehlen.

Und als ihn so der fünfte fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Güter wird Gebrauch verzehren,
doch die Weisheit dienet er zu mehren.

Und als ihn so der sechste fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Güter sind zum Bösen die Versucher,
Weisheit gottgefäll'ger Wucher.

Und als ihn so der siebente fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Teilung macht die Güter kleiner,
Weisheit nur Mitteilung allgemeiner.

Und als ihn so der achte fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Güter können selbst sich nicht erhalten,
Weisheit nur weiss Güter zu verwalten.

Und als ihn so der neunte fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Ein Kamel kann Güter schwer fortbringen,
Weisheit hat des Vogels Schwingen.

Und als ihn so der zehnte fragte,
war dies das Wort das Ali sagte:

Güter machen finster im verstockten Herzen,
hell darin der Weisheit Herzen.

Die Frager zogen ab mit Schmach, doch Ali sprach:

Und würden sie mein Leben lang mich fragen,
das Gleiche würd' ich stets und immer anders sagen.

von Friedrich Rückert aus Sieben Bücher morgenländischer Sagen und Geschichten, Stuttgart 1837

The Gate of Wisdom

Since the Prophet (s.a.s.) has pronounced:

“I am the city of wisdom, but Ali is the gate,”

Some who were roused by these words to hate,

Ten persons who would sow unrest,

sought to put this wisdom to the test.

They spoke: Let us each ask him a single question,

and if he answers with the same solution,

while expressing it to us variously,

then he is seen as the door of wisdom deservingly.

Whether other assets are to be preferred to wisdom, let us ask him.

And when the first one asked him in this way,

these were the words that Ali would say:

Wisdom is the inheritance of those sent by God,

Other assets are the inheritance of those banished by God.

And when the next his question read,

this is what Ali said:

You have to watch over all that you own,

while over you watches your wisdom alone.

And when the question was asked by the third,

in answer there came from Ali this word:

It is through wisdom that one acquires assets,

not wisdom along with assets one inherits.

And when the question was asked by the fourth,

From Ali these were the words that came forth:

From the thief your assets you cannot conceal,

but wisdom is something that no one can steal.

When the fifth one put forward the question,

In answer Ali uttered this proposition:

Assets are exhausted with use,

While this makes wisdom the more profuse.

When the sixth one put forward the question,

In answer Ali uttered this proposition:

The assets of the evil are a temptation and test;

Wisdom is a God-pleasing form of interest.

When the seventh put forth the question,

In answer Ali uttered this proposition:

Sharing makes any assets decrease,

Wisdom will only through sharing increase.

When the eighth one put forth the question,

In answer Ali uttered this proposition:

Assets cannot for themselves look after;

Assets only wisdom knows how to administer.

When the ninth one put forth the question,

In answer Ali uttered this proposition:

Assets are a heavy load for a camel herd;

Wisdom, however, soars like a bird.

When the tenth one put forth the question,

In answer Ali uttered this proposition:

Assets bring darkness to stubborn hearts;

With wisdom comes brightness within the hearts.

The questioners withdrew in ignominy, while Ali spoke with dignity:

And if you would ask me this through all my life’s days,

I would keep on saying the same thing in yet other ways.

English version by Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen

Hier ist das Herunterladen einer hoch aufgelösten Version (1464 x 2252 Pixel, 470 KB) möglich.

Friedrich Rückert Denkmal in Coburg-Neuses selbst fotografiert am 24.07.2005 GNU-FDL

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Allamah Mohammad Taqi Jafari (1923-1998)

Every mental, moral, or religious reason concerning the value and importance of human lives has also emphasized safeguarding and protecting them. Since peace and friendship are essential to safeguarding and protecting life, it proves that all war and conflict are to be opposed and overruled. The important point about peace is that physical conflict and killings cannot be avoided without wiping out the motives for war inside human beings.

from The Mystery of Life: A Secret Inside Secrets, Selections from the Writings of Allameh M. T. Jafari, Tehran: Allameh Jafari Institute, 2005, 302.
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