Jihad and the Left Hand of God

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Monday, September 17, 2007

Walking through the old streets of Peshawar, I saw before me a sea of men.  Some of these men were counting the names of Allah with their rosary.  Some of these men were selling their wares, thinking about the nature of the Koran.  Some of these men were purchasing goods, their thoughts on jihad.  Many of these men, though, wore the Beard of Abraham.  As I practiced Ramadan, talked to many people, and read the Koran, walking in the shoes of these men became easier, though I was still left with many questions.

Why are these beards important?  The Beards of Abraham are the same beards that the Hasidic Jews wear.  As Abraham is considered the father of all the "People of the Book," he is important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.

Aside from fathering the people, the Arabs, the Jews, he did two major things important to understanding where we are today: he waged jihad and he almost killed his son at the command of God.

When Abraham brought his son to Mount Moriah, as God commanded, he prepared to kill his son.  His son, just like the offering Abel gave to God, was a true offering and sacrifice, but one that was considered immoral.  Since God willed it, however, God's will took precedence over earthly morality, and Abraham prepared to kill his son, with full faith in God, blind faith as Kierkegaard would say in Fear and Trembling: the "teleological suspension of the ethical".  In the end, though, this was just a test (as happens often in the Torah, the Old Testament), and his son was spared and Abraham was given his promise and became a patriarch.

In the Torah, Abraham waged jihad on his father, Terah, smashing his idols and questioning his actions.  He witnessed the destruction of the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Bela but pleads to God to save the city if a handful of righteous people can be found.  Only one is found, Lot, who attempted to convert the sinners, so God destroys the cities. 

And God destroyed the people of Pharoah, who did not listen to Moses and His message.

And God flooded the earth, saving only those Noah brought in his ark.

And the Bible says when "you defeat them, you shall doom them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy."

"Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, chop down their sacred poles, and destroy their idols by fire" (Deuteronomy 7:5).  

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it (Isaiah 13:9).

Anyone who is found will be thrust through, and anyone who is captured will fall by the sword. Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished (Isaiah 13:15-16).

In the beginning, there was one monotheistic, Abrahamic religion advocating jihad, but because of "timshel" because of free will divisions in religion occurred.  Jihad, however, has been misinterpreted as only a holy war of Islam.  Jihad, meaning fighting or striving takes on many forms.  Just as the word fighting can mean fighting a war, jihad can also be seen in this way.  But fighting can also mean an internal battle or fighting orally or with the pen.  The greater jihad, however, is the internal battle against sin and to get closer to God: "Holy is the warrior who wrestles with himself," said Muhammad. 

In the old town market, I met Javid, the rope salesman.  We talked for over an hour about the Koran: "Give me six days and I will convince you that the Koran is not violent, otherwise I will change my religion."

I didn't stay six more days, but I do think that the Abrahamic religions have violent aspects to them, as does Hinduism in some forms "Fight O Arjuna" (Bhavagad Gita).

"What about an eye for an eye," I asked Javid.  "But Muhammad forgave people.  The Koran says that if someone does a crime against you, you are entitled to punish that person, but it is better to forgive that person, as Muhammad did."

Indeed the Koran has many passages referring to forgiveness: "The recompense for an evil is an evil like thereof; but whoever forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is with Allah" (42:40).  Elsewhere Allah is described as Most Forgiving and Most Forbearing and Muslims are described as "those who walk on the earth in humility and sedateness, and when the foolish address them, then reply back with mild words and gentleness" (25:63) Islamic law is therefore seen as harsh...but it is better to forgive...and man is given a choice, free will...timshel.

So where did the divisions occur in the Abrahamic religions?  As Abraham's family tree grew, divisions naturally occurred because of language and culture and hair color, and people naturally wanted to say that they were right, that God was on their side and that the others were wrong.  The Jews then called Jesus a false prophet.  And the Christians called the Jews unbelievers.  At its extreme, this led to the Holocaust. 

And in the Koran, the Jews and Christians are those who went astray because they changed the original meanings of the Torah and Gospels, to suit the needs of priests and rabbis (and perhaps the politicians). 

The Koran believes Jesus to be a prophet, and says that all prophets and their revelations should be treated equally (2:136) but he did not die for the unforgiven sins of man, as God had already forgiven Adam and Eve before they left the Garden. 

According to the Koran, the Christians misinterpreted and changed the holy texts to create the idea of a Trinity, of a Son of God, a Saviour, a personal God who could forgive them for their original sin and who could be worshipped in human form.  And the Christians were considered polytheists and idolaters, no different from Tereh, in these ways. 

Both Christians and Jews on the other hand, believe in their versions of the stories in the Torah and Gospels and don't believe that Muhammad is the prophet of God and the Koran was not to be trusted. 

"The Jews want to destroy us," said Javid, as he was weighing his rope for a customer.  I told him that was not the case, though some might want Islam not to exist.  At this point, all religions were calling each other wrong and jihad against each other was the result, all of whom could justify jihad because their interpretation was right: "Your verses are satanic." "Christ is false!"

This was not anything surprising, as God created man from his own two hands, both the left and the right, the peaceful and the wrathful, the internal and external, the dualities.  The aspects of God can also be seen in the 99 names of God found in the Koran, recited perhaps by those walking the market with their rosary beads: The Just, The Forgiver, The Only One, The Last, The First, The Highest, The All-Knowing, The Supreme Glory, The Mighty, The Awesome Inventer, The Awakener, The Everlasting, The Maker from Nothing, the Source of Goodness, The Expander, The Forgiver, The Preserver, The Perfectly Wise, The Truth, The Restorer, The Inner-Aware, The Preventer, The Firm, The Disgracer, The Giver of Life, The Creator of Death, The Avenger, The Manifest, The Hidden, to name a few.  Each is a different aspect describing one God, first, last, hidden, and manifest.  So God is a God who has both wrathful and peaceful attributes, who can punish as well as forgive, who gives birth and who hands out death, who calls for jihad but also calls for peace. 

On another day, I walked through town to a truck yard, where a group of men and kids were remodeling Japanese Hino trucks.  After five years, the trucks expire in Japan and are shipped to Pakistan.  But in Pakistan, the Hino trucks are boring unicolored and unadorned, so they are completely overhauled, stripped, and refinished, turned into art on wheels. Wooden panels, carved with floral patterns adorn the new doors.  The cabin is decorated with dozens of patterns and colors.  The body is painted with eagles, rockets, flowers, scenes of nature and animals, and more.  I watched as this remarkable transformation occurred; I think it offered insight into the way Pakistanis think.

At night, after the muezzins called the sunset call to prayer, I walked downtown to the bazaar where kababs, cold pomegranite juice, fruits, and more were sold on the streets.  There I stayed with the locals, eating their fast-breaking meal.  One street was completely blocked by one hundred men, prostrating to Mecca, as there was no room in the mosque.

Another man, showing his hospitality, showed me the Mahabat Khan Mosque, where many Ramazan-hungry Muslims were taking a nap.  Out this window you can see a restaurant bombed three years ago.  The Afghani owner was seen as an American spy.  "Was he," I asked?  "Yes," he replied.

Since the fighting between the Abrahamic faiths occurred as soon as they were founded, in turn, there has been very little respite, with the Crusades, the Muslim expansion into Europe, and so on.  Each side is following Abraham's blind faith and jihad examples, fighting for their cause, their land, their people.  What one side remembers, the other side remembers something else.  Muslims remember well--one man said--the genocide in Spain (when the Christians drove the Moors from Spain).  Finding any trace of this genocide in Western texts, however, is difficult.  Did it occur?  Whose history is this anyway?

Currently the U.S. Congress is issuing a resolution about the Armenian (Christian) genocide by the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.  Turkey isn't pleased with this finger pointing.  But during this war, the Western Powers destroyed the caliphate in Istanbul, another thing I've been told the Muslims resent, as it represented a unified Islamic world, as opposed to a fractured one.  Gandhi supported the re-establishment of the caliphate during his time, in support of Indian Muslims.

So how did we get to today, with Osama Bin Laden and all?  The majority here believe strongly that the Great Powers are responsible.  Back during the Great Game, when the Durand Line was created, Britain and Russia were vying for territory and Afghanistan was the last piece of the chessboard.  When Britain left, America filled the vacuum, and when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Afghanis needed to wage jihad: "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah does not love transgressors" (2:190).

America saw fit to counterbalance the USSR, as elsewhere, in Afghanistan.  The best way to do so was to fund the fundamentalists who were most ready to be martyred in combat, the mujahideen, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden.  Pakistan was where these freedom fighters (as they were called then) were based, specifically in Peshawar where they could easily enter Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass.  Many people mourn the fact that now Pakistan has been fundamentalized over these years and that guns are such a large part of the culture now. 

After the war with the USSR was over and that superpower collapsed, there was a vacuum, which the Taliban filled in Afghanistan.  Soon thereafter, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the US entered that fray, building military bases in Saudi Arabia, the home of the holiest city Mecca.

"And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out, for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter" (2:191).

This was one of Osama bin Ladin's reasons for declaring jihad on America, but only one of them, I believe, as the materialism and liberalism of the West were spreading sin throughout the lands: consumption, greed, concentrated power, corporations, world trade, the military-industrial complex, gluttony, pornography, drug and alcohol abuse, illicit sex...the works of Satan, the Great Satan.

In Osama's edict against America he specifically quotes 2:190 above and the first half of 2:193 in the Koran: "And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and let there prevail justice and faith in Allah" (2:193).  Thus, until the US military leaves Iraq, Afghanistan,  and Saudi Arabia and until there is peace in Palestine and Lebanon, the jihad will continue.  He neglects to mention the second half of the verse, however: "...but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression." (2:193).  He also neglects to follow the advice of Muhammad: to forgive and to have forebearance is better.  Without either side budging, the jihad will continue.  So who will step up to the plate: will Osama bin Laden be like Muhammad and have forebearance and forgiveness or will America decide to pull out of Muslim countries or neither?

"But if they incline towards peace, you also incline to it and put your trust in Allah" (8:61).

On top of all this, Russia is funding terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to militant newspapers in Karachi.  Iranian Shi'a groups are funding the Shi'as and Saudi Arabi is encouraging fundamentalism in Sunnis in Pakistan as well as elsewhere.  Now this fundamentalism means that even if you are a Muslim, another sect can declare jihad on you.  Still, I have many questions.

On another day, I met a German drug dealer who had just swallowed sixty gobstopper-sized balls of celophane-wrapped hasheesh before boarding a plane back for Frankfurt.  He had just come from Afghanistan, where there are no flights to Europe.

Another man told me of a local leader who was just murdered, an elder man with a long white beard, he described.  On the next day, in the paper, the title said "Mindless Violence: Spiral Descent Into Lawlessness."  The leader of Jui-F Maulana Hasan Jan called for the end between infighting of sectarian groups yet was relatively non controversial, the paper read.  But he issued a fatwa against the recent suicide attacks, prompting his murder: "the terrorists have neither a religion nor humanity," the paper lamented.  At the same time, militants attempted to destroy another of the world's large Buddha statues in Uddiyana--the Swat Valley--the birthplace of Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet.

I asked people about Osama bin Laden.  One man said that he "lives in the White House."  He didn't specify which room.  "He's not here (in Pakistan)," another said, as if it were obvious.  "The 9/11 attack was by the Jews," said another, meaning that they would use that event to blame Muslims.  Osama bin Laden wants to re-establish the caliphate to unify Islam, and many here in Peshawar, I think, support that.  Many others would also say that he is not the person to accomplish this, because the caliphate has typically been moderate.  Also, no historical caliphate has encompassed the fractured Islamic world, given sectarianism, and one man called it "nonsense."

Watching Al-Jezeera, which resembled BBC news and was very professional, I thought of all the other issues relating to jihad: the islamification of Europe, Sharia Law, and perceptions on both sides, the killings in Sudan, the Danish cartoons, death threats towards Salman Rushdie, death threats towards Israel, the clashes in Thailand near the Malasian border, the revolts in Ladakh, Israel, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Kashmir, Ethiopia and Somalia, and more.  All of these go back to Abraham and his blind faith in God as well as jihad that all Abrahamic faiths have, the left hand of God.  At the same time, though, all these faiths have many, many verses espousing the right hand of God as well, yet those of the right hand, like the whirling Sufis are not heard in the media very often.

Both these hands will always be present, because we were created in the image of God with both His hands.  But we can transcend them and the key here, I think, is with the Sufis and in the heart of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, but also with all of us and what we do--the Greater Jihad that must occur from within.
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