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I'm sitting outside in my backyard seeking escape outdoors from the depressing news playing on the TV inside. Then, in the near distance a siren sounds - like an air raid warning it wails, it's tones falling and rising with urgency - then it stops and repeats, stops and repeats. A moment later the sound of an explosion and the deck I'm sitting on trembles as the vibrations of the blast pass through it's wooden timbers. It's the construction site from a few blocks away - blasting bedrock as a prelude to a new housing development - the siren is the warning call to the construction workers on-site, of the impending explosion. The siren, the blast, and the shuddering of the deck cast my mind to other explosions, other siren wails - to places where the wails are pre-emptive mourning cries for the innocent deaths that inevitably follow the siren's call. To Israel where scattered rockets fall in response to Israeli air strikes. And to those places where deaths are now manufactured with pre-meditated precision by Israeli fighter planes and missiles - cold and proficient killings executed efficiently and ruthlessly for the sake of a strategy of collective punishment by a people whose own history should be the clearest argument against the inhumanity implicit in the debased policy of group punishment.
The heart of a people is truly tested by power and wealth and not only by weakness, oppression, and inability. Patience, endurance, and fidelity are tested in weakness - but the crucible of strength and power, wealth and ability - these are advantages capable of overthrowing humility and compassion and replacing them with arrogance and open injustice. When a people have risen from near destruction to a position of solidity and undeniable presence then one can observe and wonder how much of their former tormentor's soul have they absorbed into their own - have the suffering and difficulties they experienced only taught them to deal out the same to others. Do they, like those from whom they fled, harbor within their nation dark shadows and the cold equations of a national ego that gives them an imagined place above the humanity of others.
"....It may be that your Lord will...make you rulers in the land, then He will (test you) and see how you act." (Qur'an 7:129)
Israel (like the Arab nations that surround it) has only a shadow existence at present - it has the name, a powerfully symbolic name, but little of the reality. Carrying a name does not automatically confer on one the reality symbolized by the name (whether the name be Believer, Muslim, Christian, Jew, or Israel). The name and reality are not always one and the same thing. This is one of the reasons the Qur'an draws a distinction between the name Israel (which was the name given to the Prophet Jacob) and the descendants and followers of Israel (who are called bani-Israel, the children of Israel) - some of whom had Israel's qualities while others received the benefits conferred by his name without having within themselves anything of the reality behind the name.
"These are they on whom Allah bestowed favors, from among the prophets of the seed of Adam, and of those whom We carried with Nuh, and of the seed of Ibrahim and Israel, and of those whom We guided and chose; when the communications of the Beneficent God were recited to them, they fell down in humility and weeping. But there came after them an ugly generation, who neglected prayers and followed power and desire, so they will meet perdition, except such as repent and believe and do good, these shall enter the garden, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly in any way." (Qur'an 19:58-59)
In the Torah the prophet Jacob wrestled with an angel. The angel repelled Jacob's desire to obtain special blessings until Jacob undertook an immense battle of repentance, self-realization, and humility within his own soul - with that inner victory came the victory through the angel - the granting of the blessings he sought and the symbolic change of his name from Jacob to the uplifted name of Israel. A name earned through devotion to spiritual struggle and one that denoted the new reality of Jacob's exalted nature - a powerful bond forged in his soul extending his consciousness into higher realms so that his actions on earth were informed by a deep wisdom and understanding emanating from an awareness that penetrated into the heavens.
"And remember Our servants Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ishaq (Isaac) and Yaqoub (Jacob), men with power of insight. Surely We purified them by a pure quality, the penetrating consciousness (remembrance) of the final home. And most surely they were with Us, of the elect, the best." (Qur'an 38:45-47)
Yes, there is an entity today that calls itself Israel but it does not appear to carry within it much semblance of the spirit that underlies such an elevated name. No doubt, like all nations and all peoples, it carries within it's inhabitants multiple possibilities, potentials, and paths - ascending futures and declining ones. The paths that lead to elevation and ascent are always the more difficult ones. All paths are present, but which one dominates? What we have today is perhaps best articulated symbolically in the story of Samiri, the follower of Moses who, on the difficult journey to the promised land, in the temporary absence of Moses (when he ascended Sinai), led people to the worship of the golden calf. In the absence of the powerful divine knowledge of Moses, the people followed Samiri's deviations - a path of primary attachment to power and wealth (symbolized by the golden calf), and only a deviated, secondary attachment to the deep truths of religion.
"And if they had held (to the deep truths) of the Taurat and the Injeel and the (high knowledge) which descended to them they would have been nourished from above them and from beneath their feet...." (Qur'an 5:66) They would have partaken of the blessings of divine knowledge which would descend on them and would produce in them the balance that would allow them to realize and enjoy in peace the blessings from beneath their feet (the benefits of material sciences and that produced from honest and true effort.)
This is an Israel that all would long for, an Israel that would be a light for other nations - but the Israel of today is closer to a golden calf, a false idol produced in these secular times when Moses' knowledge is in eclipse and games of power, dominance, and the maintenance and exacerbation of existing inequalities are the stuff which fills the demented dreams of the powerful - of the Israeli government and its hegemony-seeking allies. Like Samiri, their spirits are overthrown by their own egos, they are made arrogant by their instrumental, technical, mechanistic knowledge which sees the world as a machine to be manipulated for their own purposes and calls the nations of the earth to fall in line with false dichotomies.
"...Moses came with piercing knowledge, then in his absence you created the golden calf....And the people were made to imbibe (the love of) the calf into their hearts...." (Qur'an 2:92, 93)
The name "Israel" generates powerful symbolic echoes in the minds of those who hear it. The magic effect of that name wedded to that land has the same spellbinding impact that Samiri created when he stole dust which contained within it a trace of Moses' spiritual presence and power and then cast it into the golden calf. In this way he gave the semblance of a spiritual aura to the calf and deceived many by uniting truth (the dust) with blatant falsehood (the golden calf). Today Israel capitalizes on a name and a difficult history, but this Israel of our era has not within it the character of a promised land - it is a deceptive idol conjured up by modern day Samiris, one that specializes in wrestling with its weaker neighbors - it has yet to follow the example of Jacob (Yaquob) and wrestle with itself.
If, in the fullness of time, a true Israel emerges, it will not be an apartheid state that walls up the Palestinians and models itself on the lines of oppressive political systems of our recent history, but one in which "...those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, whoever believes in God and the last day and does abundant good (for others) - shall have a beautiful reward from their Lord, and not the slightest fear will there be for them, nor shall they grieve." (Qur'an 2:62, 5:69)
And that will truly be the promised land - a sublime and honorable land worthy to carry the elevated name awarded to Jacob - a blessing granted by angels from the realm of the unseen for the benefit of mankind.
But for now we have only a golden calf, tarnished, and fading in
appeal. And for now we must stand as firm and honest witnesses against
damage, mischief, and injustices committed by this Israel in
co-ordination with its powerful
allies - running in reckless and callous pursuit of geo-strategic
"....whenever they kindle a fire for war Allah puts it out, and they strive to create mischief (oppression and imbalance) in the land; and Allah does not love the mischief-makers." (Qur'an 5:64)
An excerpt from Imam Ali (a.s.) - in sharing his knowledge with his adept, Kumail, he complained about Muslims who had put aside correct knowledge and application of their religion for quick worldly gain.
"...These hearts are containers, and the best of them are the ones
most heedful of elevated knowledge. So preserve what I say to you.
There are three kinds of people: One who seeks to know God for the
beauty of drawing near to Him, one who is a learner on the road to
deliverance, and then there are those who follow every crower, who bend
with every breeze. They do not seek illumination by the light of
knowledge and do not resort to a reliable support.
...knowledge is better than wealth for knowledge protects you,
while you protect wealth. Wealth is diminished by spending, while
knowledge grows by use....Those who hoard up wealth have perished even
though they are alive....
...Here (and he pointed to his chest) is abundant knowledge. If only
I could come upon people to bear it. Indeed I have come upon those who
are not faithful to it - who took it hastily and did not imbibe and
protect it (they sought it superficially, for their own ends). Such
people seek to use the tools of religion for (advancement) in this
world. They use the devices of belief as a means of attaining
domination (and power) over God's friends (through the authority of
...Or there is the one who sought knowledge of religion without
having a true vision of his own (need for) humility. Doubt sparks in
such hearts at the first difficulty, at the first sign of uncertainty.
Indeed, there is neither this nor that! Either they are greedy for the enjoyment (of the world), dominated by the fetters of their cravings, or they are infatuated with hoarding wealth and power - they are not fit to be shepherds of religion....Thus does deep knowledge die out....
O God! Certainly the earth is not devoid of those who are proofs of
you (by their elevated lives) in front of your creatures....
They are, by God, fewest in number but greatest in rank with God. By
them God preserves the divine proofs and clarifications until they
entrust them to others like them and plant them in the hearts of others
like them. By them knowledge enters into intense insight, and they are
imbued with the spirit of certainty ....They are physically in this
world, yet their spirits are suspended in the highest liberation. They
are deputies of God on earth, and are those who invite people (in the
best manner) to the profoundities of God's religion. Oh, how I long to
"Nahjul Balagha" - based on multiple
translation including those by I.K.A Howard and Thomas Cleary)