Tuesday, April 21, 2015

People Of The Book

A lot of people have opinions about the People of the Book. I have even heard some scholars speak with authority about them and yet speak utter nonsense. Most people have no idea who or what they are. The People of the Book, the Ahlul-Kitab, refers to three main groups of people in the Qur’an: the Sabeans, the Christians, and the Jews. It was the opinion of Caliph ‘Umar I that the Zoroastrians are included in this group and he dealt with them as such.

Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians and Sabeans, any who believe in God and the Last Day and work righteousness shall have their Reward with their Lord; upon them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
[Quran 2:62]

We know who are the Christians and the Jews but who are the Sabeans? Some scholars actually believe that Sabeans refer to the descendants of the followers of John the Baptist, Hazrat Yahya alayhisalam.

Twenty years after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, there were still disciples of John the Baptist in Alexandria, mentioned in Acts 18:24-25 and Ephesus, mentioned in Acts 19:1-6.
Now a certain Jew, named Apollo, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus, one mighty in the scriptures. This man was instructed in the Way of the Lord: and being fervent in spirit, spoke and taught diligently the things that are of Jesus, knowing only the Baptism of John.
[Acts 18:24-25]
And it came to pass, while Apollo was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper coasts, came to Ephesus and found certain disciples.
And he said to them
Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?
But they said to him
We have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost.
And he said
In what then were you baptized?
They said
In John's Baptism.
Then Paul said
John baptized the people with the Baptism of Penance saying,
That they should believe in him, who was to come after him, that is to say, in Jesus.
Having heard these things, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
[Acts 19:1-6]

They believed in God as Creator, but they did not view themselves as disciples of Jesus, and they had no experience of the Holy Spirit. There is to this day a community of 80,000 Mandean Sabeans in Iraq.

They look back to the teachings of John the Baptist, and others they view as prophets such as Seth and Abraham as recorded in their holy book, the Kanza Rama, Aramaic for ‘Great Treasure.’ As in the case of the followers of John, they practice baptism, but they do not view themselves as disciples of Jesus, nor do they speak of the Holy Spirit.

Washing with water is part of their weekly ritual, but not the bread and wine of communion. The Sabean temple in Baghdad has a crucifix that is always covered with baptismal linen to indicate it is not a Christian cross. Their explanatory model is therefore Unitarian rather than Trinitarian, and they hardly distinguish themselves from the Muslims among whom they live.

Their numbers, less than 100,000 worldwide, are dwindling because nobody can be converted into their community. One has to be born into the Sabean faith.

There are also people who believe that Zoroastrians and the Yezdis are Ahlul-Kitab. The Mughal Emperor of India, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, reigned from 1556 to 1605, controversially ruled that the Hindus are Ahlul-Kitab to allow his marriage to a Hindu Princess from Rajput, the one often erroneously referred to as Jodha Bai.

As was the opinion of the ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and many classical scholars of Islam thereafter familiar with the Persians, Zoroastrians are considered Ahlul-Kitab. After the conquest of Sassanid Persia, they were treated as such. However, since they are not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an as with regards of permissibility to marry them, Muslims are not allowed to wed Zoroastrians without willful conversion of the non-Muslim. The verse identifying the Ahlul-Kitab lawful for marriage does not mention Zoroastrians.

On this day, all things good and pure are made lawful unto you: the food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them; lawful unto you for marriage are not only chaste women who are Believers of the Quran, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time, when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues. If anyone rejects faith knowingly, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost all spiritual good.
[Quran 5:5]

The teachings of Zoroaster include belief in One Creator: Ahura Mazda. They believe in angels and a concept similar to the Day of Judgment. On the Day of Judgement, the assembled have to cross a bridge called Sirat. The bridge is as wide as your deeds. Those who fail will fall into a place of fire called Jahanamae. The faithful will be rewarded with a heavenly abode called Paradisae. This is the origin of the English word ‘Paradise.’

Interesting fact, Mithra or Mithras was one of the Avesta, the Archangels of Ahura Mazda, who eventually was worshiped as a god in his own right in the Near East. This eventually spread to the Roman Empire and the religion of Mithras challenged the nascent Christian sect of Judaism before being absorbed by it. The vicarious sacrifice, death and resurrection of Mithras after three days and the celebration of his birth, 25th December, by giving presents wrapped in coloured cloth was thought to be the origin of the Christian celebrations of Lent, culminating in Easter, and Advent, culminating in Christmas. But this is uncertain and it could be Christianity that influenced the former.

As for the Yezdis, they are a mysterious religion from the northern half of the Fertile Crescent.
Their Holy Site is Lalish near Mosul in Iraq.

Ultimately, we are unsure of the origins of the religion, where it actually started, when it began and so forth. The principal reason is because the primary adherents of the faith, the Kurds, are an insular people. Thus information about the faith is difficult to come by. Furthermore, the language of their religious texts, the Mishefa Res and the Kiteba Cilwe, is Kurmanji, a Northern Kurdish dialect.

Yezdism has many similarities with Christianity and Islam but there are principal differences. The origin of the term 'Yezdi' itself is uncertain. The Yezdis themselves believe that their name is derived from the word ‘Yezdan’ or ‘Ezid,’ which means God in their language. Some scholars have derived the name Yezdi from Old Iranian 'Yazata' meaning 'Divine Being,' while others say it is a derivation from the accursed Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, Yazid ibn Mu’aviye, said to have been revered by the Yezdis as an incarnation of the divine figure, Sultan Ezi. This derivation of the name is no longer accepted. As to whether they revere Yazid I as an Avatar of the Divine Sultan is not established but religions norms such as these hardly change.

The Yezdis believe that God created the world with the help of a Heptad of Archangels also known as Heft Sirr, the Seven Mysteries. The Ruler of these Archangels, who are analogous to the Christian and Muslim Archangels, is Melek Taus. He is also known as Shaytan. The story of Iblis and Adam in the Mishefa Res is almost the same as in the Qur’an, but, whereas in the Qur’an, Iblis was rebuked for refusing to bow before Adam, the Yezdis revere him for it since they believe the source of evil is the Heart of Man himself.

God first created Melek Taus from his own illumination, Rohani, and the other six archangels were created later. God ordered Melek Taus not to bow to any other being but Himself. Then God created the other archangels and ordered them to bring Him dust, ax, from the Earth, erd, and build the body of Adam. Then God gave life to Adam from His Own Breath and instructed all archangels to bow down to Adam. All of the archangels obeyed except for Melek Taus. In answer to God, Malek Taus exclaimed,
How can I submit to another being?! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust!
Then God praised him and made him the Leader of all Archangels and His Deputy on the Earth.

Yezdis also believe that the Heptad are periodically reincarnated in human form, Avatars, called ‘koasasa.’ There is also a belief in the reincarnation of lesser Yezdi souls. It is the Yezdi belief that Satan is the Ruler of the World and their veneration of Yazid ibn Mu’aviye as an Avatar in a predominantly Muslim, principally Shi’a area, that has consequently led to massive discrimination and periodic persecution.

Yazid ibn Mu’aviye the Accursed, killed Imam Husayn at Kerbala, had him decapitated and paraded throughout the empire. He mocked the severed head of Husayn in his court. Many of those present cried at the desecration of the head of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhisalam. Some of them left and never returned to Damascus. He attacked Mecca, killed many of the Prophet's Noble Companions and their families, set fire to the Kaaba and persecuted the Ahlul-Bayt, the People of the Prophetic Household. He stabled animals in Masjid Nabawi, the honored mosque housing the tomb of the Prophet. His soldiers raped the womenfolk of Mecca. He was known to have led the fajr salah in a state of intoxication. When admonished by the scholars, he said that if they did not like it, he could lead them in another two raka’at. He was a known pedophile and fornicator and he molested young boys. When he was killed, his body was cut to pieces and fed to his dogs. There was nothing left to bury.

For the most part, despite the contention of many scholars, when we talk about the Ahlul-Kitab, we generally mean the Christians and the Jews. The Sabeans are, for the most part, extinct. The term, Ahlul-Kitab, is a term of honor. The People of the Book are accepted as Believers of Allah and the Keepers of the Covenants: the Noahide, Abrahamic and Mosaic Laws. They are acknowledged in the Qur’an as the nearest to us in belief and affection.

…and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say: "We are Christians" because amongst them are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world for the Sake of God, and they are not arrogant.
[Quran 5:82]

— Sidi Terence Helikaon Nunis of A Muslim Convert Once More

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Essentials Of Christianity — The Harrowing Of Hell

And Joseph rose and said to Annas and Caiaphas: You are indeed right to marvel since you have heard that Jesus has been seen alive after death, and that he has ascended into heaven. However, even more marvelous, he did not rise from the dead alone; but many other dead he raised from their graves to life, and many people have seen them in Jerusalem.

And now hear me! For we all know the blessed Simeon, the high priest who received the child Jesus in his hands in the temple. And this Simeon had two sons, brothers in blood, and we were all present at their death and burial. Go therefore and look at their graves, for they are open, because they have risen! And behold they are in the city of Arimathea living together in prayer. And indeed men hear them crying out, yet they speak with no one, but are silent as dead men. But come, let us go to them and with all honor and gentleness bring them to us. And if we command them, perhaps they will inform us about the mystery of their rising again.

When they heard these things, they all rejoiced. And Annas and Caiaphas, Nicodemus and Joseph and Gamaliel went and did not find them in their grave; but they went to the city of Arimathea, and found them there, kneeling on their knees and giving themselves to prayer. And they kissed them, and with all reverence and in the fear of God they brought them to Jerusalem into the synagogue. And they shut the doors and took the Law of the Lord and put it into their hands, and adjured them by God, Adonai, the God of Israel who spoke to our fathers through the prophets, saying, “Do you believe that it is Jesus who raised you from the dead? Tell us how you have arisen from the dead!”

And when Karinus and Leucius heard this adjuration, they trembled physically and groaned, being troubled at heart. And looking up together to heaven they made the seal of the cross with their fingers upon their tongues, and forthwith they spoke, both of them, saying: “Give us each a volume of paper, and let us write that which we have seen and heard.” And they gave them to them, and each sat down and wrote the following:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Resurrection of the dead and Life of the living, permit us to speak of the glorious secrets of Your Majesty which You accomplished after Your death on the Cross, for we have been commanded in Your Name. For You commanded Your servants to tell no one the secrets of your Divine Majesty which You wrought in Hades.

Now when we were placed with all our fathers in the deep, in shadowy darkness, suddenly the sun’s golden heat was there, and royal, purple light shone on us. And immediately the father of the whole human race, together with all the patriarchs and prophets rejoiced, saying, “This Light is the Author of everlasting light Who promised to send to us His co-eternal Light.” And Isaiah cried out, “This is the Light of the Father, the Son of God, just as I prophesied when I was alive on the Earth: ‘The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali beyond Jordan, of Galilee of the Gentiles; the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shone.’ And now it has come and shone upon us that sit in death!”

And as we were all rejoicing in the light which shone upon us, our father Simeon came joyfully to us pronouncing: “Glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God! For I received Him in my hands in the temple when He was born a Child, and being moved by the Holy Spirit I confessed Him, saying to Him; ‘Now my eyes have seen Your salvation which You prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.’” And when they heard these things, the whole multitude of the saints rejoiced yet more.

And after that there came someone looking like a desert dweller, and everyone asked him, “Who are you?” And he answered: “I am John, the voice and the prophet of the Most High, who preceded His coming to prepare His Path, to give knowledge of salvation to His people, so that their sins might be forgiven. And when I saw Him coming to me, I was moved by the Holy Spirit and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him Who takes away the world’s sins!

And I baptized Him in the river Jordan, and I saw the Holy Spirit coming down on Him with the appearance of a dove, and I heard a voice from the sky saying, ‘This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ And now I have come before His face, and have come down to proclaim to you that He is at hand to visit us: He, the Beatific Dawn, the Son of God, is coming from on high to us that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

And when father Adam the first-created heard this, that Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan, he cried out to his son Seth, saying, “Tell your sons the patriarchs and the prophets all you heard from Michael the Archangel, when I sent you to the Gates of Paradise to beg God to send his angel to give you oil from the tree of mercy to anoint my body when I was sick.”

Then Seth approached the holy patriarchs and prophets, and said, “When I was praying at the Gates of Paradise, behold Michael the Angel of the Lord appeared to me, saying, ‘I am sent to you from the Lord: it is I that am set over the body of man. And I say to you, Seth, do not upset yourself with weeping, praying and begging for the oil of the Tree of Mercy to anoint your father Adam because he is in physical pain; for you will not be able to receive it until the Last Days and Times, until five thousand five hundred years are accomplished. Then the Most Beloved Son of God will come upon the Earth to raise up the body of Adam and the bodies of the dead, and He shall come to be baptized in the Jordan. And when He emerges from Jordan’s water, He will anoint all those who have believed in Him with the Oil of Mercy. And for all generations that are born of water and that are born of the Holy Spirit, that Oil of Mercy will be for Eternal Life. Then the most beloved Son of God, Jesus the Anointed, will descend to Earth and bring our father Adam into Paradise to the Tree of Mercy.”

And when they heard all these things from Seth, all the patriarchs and prophets rejoiced with great joy.

And while all the saints were rejoicing, behold Satan the Prince and Chief of Death said to Hades: “Prepare yourself to receive Jesus who boasts He is God’s Son, though He is a human being, afraid of death, and says, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death.’ And He has been my great enemy, harming me greatly. With a word He has healed who I had made blind, lame, dumb, leprous, and possessed: and some that I have brought to you dead, He has taken.”

Hades answered and said to Prince Satan, “Who is this Mighty One, if He is a human being Who fears death? For all the mighty ones of the Earth are subject to my power, even those that you have brought me subdued by your power. If, then, you are mighty, what manner of man is this Jesus Who can withstand your power, even though He is afraid of death? If He is so mighty in His humanity, I tell you truly He is Almighty in His Godhead, and no man can withstand His Power. And when He says that He fears death, He wishes to trap you; and woe shall be to you for Everlasting Ages.”

But Satan the Prince of Tartarus said, “Why do you doubt and fear to receive this Jesus Who is your adversary and mine? For I tempted Him, and have stirred up my ancient people with envy and wrath against Him. I have sharpened a spear to thrust Him through, gall and vinegar have I mixed to give Him to drink, and I have prepared a cross to crucify Him and nails to pierce Him. And His death is near at hand, so I can bring Him to you to be subject to us.”

Hades answered and said, “You told me it is He who has taken dead men from me. For there are many who when they were alive on Earth have taken dead men from me — not by their own power but by praying to God, and their Almighty God has taken them from me. Who is this Christ Jesus that has drawn dead men away from my grasp by His Own Word and without prayer? Perhaps it is He who by simply speaking a single command restored to life Lazarus, four days dead, stinking and decomposing, whom I held here demised.”

Satan the Prince of Death answered and said: “It is that same Jesus.”

When Hades heard this, he said to him: “I adjure you by your strength and my own, not to bring Him to me! For at that time when I heard him speak a command I shook and I was overwhelmed with fear, and all my servants were troubled with me. And we could not keep Lazarus — like an eagle shaking himself, he sprang forth with all agility and swiftness and departed from us, and the Earth which held Lazarus’s corpse at once yielded him up alive. And so it is I know now that the Man who was able to do these things is a God strong in command and mighty in manhood, and that He is the Savior of mankind. And if you bring Him to me He will set free all that are shut up here in this prison and bound in the chains of their sins, and He will bring them to the life of His Godhead forever.”

And as Prince Satan and Hades said these things to each other, suddenly there came a voice like thunder and a spiritual shout:
Lift up, your Gates, O Princes,
and be lifted up, you everlasting doors,
and the King of Glory shall come in.

When Hades heard this, he said to Prince Satan, “Leave me, leave my dwelling. If you are a mighty warrior then fight against the King of Glory. But what is He to you?” And Hades cast Satan out of his dwelling. Then Hades said to his wicked servants, “Shut fast the strong gates of brass and put on them the iron bars and resist bravely! Make sure we who hold the captives do not become captives ourselves!”

But when the multitude of saints all heard it, they rebuked Hades, “Open your gates, that the King of Glory may come in!” And David cried out, “When I was alive on Earth, did I not tell you beforehand, ‘Let them give thanks to the Lord, for His mercies and His wonders to the children of men; Who has broken the gates of brass and smitten the iron bars asunder? He has taken them from their wicked ways.’”

And then Isaiah likewise said, “When I was alive on Earth, did not I tell you, ‘The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall rise again, and they that are in the Earth shall rejoice, for the dew which comes from the Lord is their healing?’ And again I said, ‘O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’”

When they heard what Isaiah said, all the saints said to Hades, “Open your gates! Now you will be overcome and weak and devoid of strength.” And there came a great voice like thunder, saying, “Lift up your gates, O Princes, and be lifted up you portals of Hades, and the King of Glory shall come in!”

And when Hades saw that they cried out twice like this, he said, as if he did not know the answer already, “Who is this King of Glory?”

And David answered Hades and said, “I know the words being shouted, since by His Spirit I prophesied the same; and now I say to you what I said before: ‘The Lord strong, the Lord mighty in battle: He is the King of Glory.’” And, ‘The Lord looked down from Heaven that He might hear the groans of those in fetters and deliver the children of the slain.’ And now, most foul and stinking Hades, open your gates, that the King of Glory may come in.”

And as David spoke in this way to Hades, the Lord of Majesty appeared in the form of a man and lightened the eternal darkness and broke the unbreakable bonds. And His everlasting might brought relief to us that sat in the deep darkness of our transgressions and in the shadow of death of our sins.

When Hades and Death and their wicked servants saw this, they were stricken with fear, they and their cruel officers, at the sight of the radiance of such a great Light in their own realm, seeing Christ suddenly in their dwelling. And they cried out, saying, “We are overcome by You. Who are You, sent by the Lord for our confusion? Who are You, undamaged by corruption, and with Your Majesty’s signs unblemished, in Your Wrath condemning our mighty power? Who are You so great and so small, both humble and exalted, both soldier and commander, a marvelous warrior in the form of a bondsman, and King of Glory, both dead and living, whom the Cross carried killed upon it? You that lay dead in the grave have come down to us living, and at Your death all creation shuddered and all the stars were shaken. You have become become free among the dead and You rout our legions. Who are You that free prisoners held bound by the Original Sin and restore them into their former freedom, dignity and liberty? Who are You that shed Your Divine and Blazing Light on those who were blinded with the darkness of their sins?”

Likewise all the legions of devils were stricken with the same fear and cried out all together, terrified and in confusion, saying, “Where are You from, Jesus, a man so mighty and radiant in majesty, so excellent, spotless, clean of sin? For that world, the Earth, which hitherto was always subject to us, paying tribute from which we profited, has never sent us a dead man like You, nor ever dispatched such a gift to Hades! Who then are You that enter our borders so fearlessly, not fearing our torments, but even trying to carry everyone off out of our bondage? Perhaps You are that Jesus of whom Satan our prince said that by Your death on the cross You should receive the Dominion of the world.

Then the King of Glory in his majesty trampled on Death, and laid hold of Prince Satan and delivered him to the Power of Hades, and drew Adam to Him, to His Own Brightness.

Then Hades, receiving Prince Satan, reproached him, saying, “O Prince of Perdition and Chief of Destruction, Beelzebub, the scorn of the angels and spitting of the righteous, why did you do this? You crucify the King of Glory and at His death you promise us great plunder from His death. Like a fool you did not know what you were doing! See! by the brightness of His majesty this Jesus puts to flight all the darkness of death. He has broken the strong depths of the prisons, and let out the prisoners and loosed the bound. And all those who were groaning in our torments rejoice against us, and at their prayers our dominions are vanquished and our realms conquered. And now no nation of men fears us any more. And beside this, the dead, who never used to be proud, triumph over us, and the captives who never could be joyful threaten us. O Prince Satan, father of all the wicked and ungodly and renegades, why did you do this? Of all those who from the beginning until now have despaired of life and salvation, now none of their howls can be heard nor a groan from them sounds in our ears, nor is there any sign of tears on the face of them!

“O Prince Satan, Holder of the Keys of Hades, those riches you once won by the Tree of Transgression and the loss of Paradise, you have lost by the Tree of the Cross, and all your gloating is over! When you hung up Christ Jesus the King of Glory you worked against yourself and against me. Henceforth you shall know what eternal torments and infinite pains you are to suffer in my keeping for ever. O Prince Satan, Author of Death and head of all pride, you ought first to have sought out some wrongdoing to accuse this Jesus of: why did you dare to crucify Him unjustly, without any cause, when you found no blame against Him, and to bring into our realm the Innocent Righteous One, and to lose the guilty, the ungodly and the unrighteous of the entire world?”

And when Hades had spoken like this to Prince Satan, the King of Glory said to Hades: “Satan the Prince shall be in your power to all ages in the stead of Adam, and his children My righteous ones.”

And the Lord stretching out His Hand, said, “Come to Me, all My holy ones who bear My Image and My Likeness. You that by the Tree and the Devil and Death were condemned, behold now the Devil and Death condemned by the Tree!” And immediately all the saints were gathered together under the Hand of the Lord. And the Lord holding the right hand of Adam, said to him, “Peace be to you with all your children, my righteous ones.”

But Adam, casting himself at the knees of the Lord, entreated him with tears and beseechings, and said with a loud voice, “I will magnify You, O Lord, for You have set me upright and not let my enemies triumph over me. O Lord my God I cried to You and You have healed me; Lord, You have brought my soul out of Hades, You have delivered me from those who go down into the Pit. Sing praises to the Lord, all you His saints, and give thanks to Him, remembering His Holiness! For there is Wrath in His indignation and Life is in His good pleasure.” In the same way all the saints of God knelt and cast themselves at the feet of the Lord, saying with one accord: “You are come, Redeemer of the World! What You foretold by the Law and Your prophets, You have accomplished in deed.

“You have redeemed the living by Your Cross, and by the death of the Cross You have come down to us, to save us out of Hades and Death through Your majesty. O Lord, as You have set the Name of Your Glory in the Heavens and set up Your Cross as a token of redemption upon the Earth, even so, O Lord, set up the sign of Your Cross’s victory in Hades, that death may have no more dominion.”

And the Lord stretched out His Hand and made the Sign of the Cross over Adam and over all His saints, and He took the right hand of Adam and went up out of Hades, and all the saints followed Him. Then Holy David cried aloud, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things. His Right Hand has wrought Salvation for Him and His Holy Arm. The Lord has made known His saving; before the face of all nations He has revealed His Justice.” And the whole multitude of the saints answered, saying: “Such honor have all His saints. Amen, Alleluia.”

And then Habakkuk the prophet cried out, “You went forth for the Salvation of Your people to set Your chosen free.” And all the saints answered, “Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord. The Lord is God and has appeared to us. Amen, Alleluia.”

Likewise after that the prophet Micah too shouted, “What God is like You, O Lord, taking away iniquity and removing sins? And now You withhold Your wrath as evidence that You are freely Merciful, and You turn and have mercy on us. You forgive all our iniquities and have sunk all our sins in the depths of the sea, as You swore to our fathers in the days of old.” And all the saints answered, saying, “This is our God for ever and ever! He shall be our guide, to ages of ages. Amen, Alleluia.” And so spoke all the prophets, quoting sacred words from their praises, and all the saints followed the Lord, crying “Amen, Alleluia!”

But the Lord holding the hand of Adam delivered him to Michael the Archangel, and all the saints followed Michael the Archangel. And he brought them all into the Glory and Grace of Paradise. And there two old men met them, and when they were asked by the saints: “Who are you that have never been dead in Hades with us, and are placed in Paradise in the body?” Then one of them answered, “I am Enoch, who was brought here by the Word of the Lord, and this that is with me is Elijah the Tishbite, who was taken up in a Chariot of Fire. Up to this day we have not tasted death, but we are kept until the Coming of the Antichrist to fight against him with Signs and Wonders of God, and to be slain by him in Jerusalem, and after three days and a half to be taken up again alive on the clouds.”

And as Enoch and Elijah were speaking like this with the saints, there came another man miserably dressed, carrying on his shoulders the Sign of the Cross. When they saw him, all the saints asked him, “Who are you? You look like a brigand! And how is it you bear a Sign on your shoulders?” And he answered them, “You are right: I was a brigand, doing all manner of evil upon the Earth. And the Jews crucified me with Jesus, and I beheld the Wonders in Creation which occurred through the Cross of Jesus when He was crucified. And I believed that He was the Maker of all creatures and the Almighty King, and I begged him. ‘Remember me, Lord, when You come in your Kingdom!’ And immediately He received my prayer, and said to me, ‘Truly I tell you, this day you will be with Me in Paradise.’ And He gave me the Sign of the Cross, saying, ‘Carry this and go to Paradise, and if the Angel that guards Paradise will not let you enter, show him the sign of the Cross; and say to him: Jesus Christ the Son of God, now the Crucified, has sent me.’ And when I had done this, I said all these things to the angel who guards Paradise; and when he heard this from me he immediately opened the door and brought me in, and set me at the right hand of Paradise, saying, ‘Wait just a little while and Adam, the father of all mankind, will enter in with all his children that are holy and righteous, after the triumph and glory of the Ascension of Christ the Lord, the Crucified.” When they heard all these words of the brigand, all the holy patriarchs and prophets said with one voice:
Blessed be the Lord Almighty,
the Father of eternal good things,
the Father of mercies!
You that have given such grace to Your sinners
and brought them again into the beauty of Paradise
And into Your good pastures:
for this is the most holy life of the spirit!
Amen, Amen.

— Gospel of Nicodemus, Chapter 17 to 26

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Essentials Of Christianity — Salvation By The Cross

The following is an essay I penned for my Religions of the Western World class taken under Rutgers University conducted by Professor James Pavlin. I'd like to present this forth as my Easter present to the world. Peace!

The Christian view of Atonement and Salvation is strongly linked to the concept of Original Sin and Sacrifice. Christians believe every sin is equal in the eyes of God. And God is Pure and Divine. So in order to reconcile oneself with God, he or she must cleanse himself or herself of all sins for any sin, even something as minute as a lie taints the soul and the soul then becomes turned away from God and His Grace.

This is where the earlier Jewish view of repentance through sacrifice comes in. The early Jews used to sacrifice cattle at the Temple of God in order to be forgiven by God and saved. But Christians believe that human beings are inherently tainted by sin from birth due to the actions of Adam and Eve. The act of disobedience performed by them in the Garden of Eden was so profound and deep that it cut into the souls of all their children. We are all tainted, as the Book of Romans, Chapter 3, Verse 10 tells us:
"As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one."
And the Stature of God is indeed much too great to tolerate this, as the Book of Romans also tells us, this time in Chapter 3, Verse 23:
"For all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.

Due to the stain of the Original Sin imprinted upon the souls of all mankind as per the consequences of the action of Adam and Eve, no amount of good deeds such as prayer, fasting or charity can save mankind nor will the meticulous following of the Law because Christians believe that the Law is beyond human limitations to fulfill, for the Law demands that which we as humans cannot do.

"You shall be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy" is the impossible demand of the Law. In other words, humans cannot attain salvation by themselves. Verse 6 from Chapter 64 of the Book of Isaiah is used to explain this:
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags."

Therefore, in order to pay the wager for the Original Sin, a perfect sacrifice was required to attain God's Grace for us. The idea of the sacrifice to be forgiven of sin comes from the Jewish tradition of sacrificing cattle, in most cases, a lamb, for repentance. So God, in His Infinite Mercy and Love, chose to become the sacrifice in flesh descending in the form of the Holy Son to die on the cross and atone for us all. This is why, Jesus, believed to be the Holy Son, is entitled the Lamb of God.

The Sacrifice of Jesus was required to cleanse humanity of the sin of Adam so that mankind may be saved and become pure again so their good deeds can be accepted by God as way to earn His Blessings. No excerpt of the Bible propounds this clearer than Romans, Chapter 5, Verses 12 through 21:
"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the Grace of God and the free gift by the Grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the Abundance of Grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
But unless one accepts this sacrifice of God the Son to God the Father after he knows of it, he is not presented with God's Grace and he is denied the gift of eternal life because, as the Book of Romans, Chapter 6, Verse 23 tells us, Jesus Christ is the only way to Salvation and eternal life:
"...but the gift of God is eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord."
This, Christians justify, through the own words of Jesus as narrated in the Book of John, Chapter 14, Verse 6:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man come unto the Father, but by me."

— Fahim Ferdous Promi 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

People Of The Flame

Mankind has long sought the source of its existence, the grand architect of its genesis and of all creation. From a droplet of energy to a hairy gigantic ogre, a myriad of theories attempted to answer the million dollar question. For many, the answer was not a singular presence, but rather a horde of celestial authorities in charge of maintaining the balance of the universe.

However, these immortal godlike beings were not always images of purity and justice. From wanton gluttony to bestial lust, the primordial pagan gods and goddesses were often imbued with dark shades of immorality. Zeus, Hera, Vishnu, Kali, Arceus, Ra – oftentimes the figurines in consideration – were synonymous with stories of wrathful vengeance and destruction. The logic was simple: that which creates, can destroy. And although the notion endures to this day, the central deity of most predominant faiths is now honored with a sense of reverence and grace. Centuries before the birth of Christ, prophet Zoroaster presented a similar dogma, and thus Zoroastrianism was born.

Good words, good thoughts, good actions – the essence of Zoroastrianism. While early paganism went on multiplying their gods and goddesses to uncountable millions and Buddhism reduced the numbers to none, from the deserts of Iran materialized a very different philosophy of the image of god and our existence: proclaimed prophet Zarathustra that there was only one god, Ahura Mazda – the Light of Wisdom, a universal deity of whom no evil can come about. His anti-thesis was Angra Mainyu – the Spirit of Destruction.

According to the Zoroastrian credo, the purpose of one's life is as guileless as this: reject evil, accept good. The prime monotheistic religions of today would grossly be in agreement with the core beliefs of prophet Zoroaster's doctrine: God is One and God creates no malice; all that is wicked originates from a being that is in rebellion against God and wishes to corrupt his creation; life is a moral battle of ethics where mankind must exercise his free-will to choose between righteousness and sin – the ones in the path of good shall be rewarded in the afterlife with peace and eternal happiness, the sinful and malevolent shall be thrown into a pit of fire as punishment for their misdeeds.

However, during the time of Zarathustra, the idea was not only radical but considered utterly revolting. In a land dominated by polytheism such faith stood in opposition to the social theological norm, going against everything the Aryans had thus far been led to believe in. And thus, conflict was imminent. Nonetheless, confident that God Himself had appointed him to preach the truth, Zoroaster did not back down even in the face of adversity.

Pitted against the civil and religious authorities in the area in which he preached, or the Followers of the Lie (dregvant) as he called them, Zoroaster succeeded in accumulating a strong following: starting from the conversion of his cousin, Maidhyoimanha, to that of King Vishtaspa, twelve years later since the day of revelation.

Iran – the land where Adam and Eve of Biblical lore is once said to have frolicked in bountiful gardens of love, wherein dwell the warrior wrestlers of Isfahan and where the Old Man of the Mountain launched a revolution painted in blood – is currently a country chiefly dominated by Shiite Muslims with Islamic traditions and ideologies embedded deep within its veins.

Islam itself is a fiercely monotheistic religion, resolute in the principle of the One True God. However, the ruins of an arcane temple in the deserts of Isfahan remind us that Iran had accepted the idea of the One True God eons before the advent of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

It was approximately five to six centuries preceding the birth of Jesus the Messiah of Nazareth, an Aryan priest attending to the temple of the ancient Persian god of fire, sky, storm and lightning received a revelation while standing knee deep in a river drawing water for a religious ceremony, a revelation every bit as profound as that of Buddha's enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, the encounter of Moses with the Burning Bush atop the summit of Tur Sinai, and Muhammad's rendezvous with Archangel Gabriel inside Gar Hira. The revelation was this: the pantheon of Aryan gods and their ritualistic traditions were all a mistake. Human beings were not created to serve and sacrifice at the altars of created stone idols. There was a simpler, pristine truth – God was only One, Ahura Mazda the Wise Lord. Standing in rebellion against him was the great being of evil – Angra Mainyu. All the other gods and goddesses were his minions: the daevas – devils.

Drawing parallels between Zoroastrianism and Abrahamic monotheism, we come across many similarities. Aforementioned are the ideas of a One True God and a being of pure malice which can be considered similar to the God of Abraham and Satan respectively. Next, we have the concept of free-will and the luxury to choose from good and evil, a privilege first bestowed upon Adam and Eve of Biblical tradition in Abrahamic lore. Finally, we have the belief of an afterlife, the presence of Heaven for the just and Hell for the wicked, and a Day of Judgment when God shall decide who shall savor eternal joy in Paradise and who shall be damned for eternity.

Before this Final Hour there shall come a day when Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail over the evil Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end. In the final renovation, all of creation — even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to "darkness" — will be reunited in the courts of Ahura Mazda, returning to life in the undead form. At the end of time, a savior-figure – Saoshyant – will bring about a final renovation of the world, in which the dead will be revived. This belief is drastically similar to that of the apocalyptic Second Coming of Jesus and the Day of Resurrection, an idea held as a core tenet of faith within the religion of Islam and Christianity.

In fact, when first exposed to the teachings of Zoroastrianism during the invasion of Persia, the Companions, or the Sahabah as they were called, of the Islamic Prophet, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, immediately entitled Zarathustra a divinely inspired prophet such as the likes of Abraham, Solomon, and Jacob, and thus they accorded the same treatment to the Zoroastrian people which they did to other "People of the Book." Though the name of Zoroaster is not mentioned in the Quran, still he was regarded as one of those prophets whose names have not been mentioned in the Quran, for there is a verse in the Quran:

"And We did send apostles before thee: there are some of them that We have mentioned to thee and there are others whom We have not mentioned to Thee."
[al-Quran 40:78]

Accordingly the Muslims treated the founder of Zoroastrianism as a true prophet and believed in his religion as they did in other inspired creeds, and thus according to the prophecy, protected the Zoroastrian religion. The Baha'i Faith also holds Zoroaster in exalted regards. Other similarities between the Abrahamic religions, specially Islam, and Zoroastrianism would be the practice of head-covering for women and the performance of prayers throughout the day.

Besides the many likenesses it shares with Abrahamic monotheism, Zoroastrianism also bears a plethora of differences. Zoroastrians are often, mistakenly and incorrectly, referred to as “fire worshippers”, hence the name “People of the Flame.” This, however, is not true. Zoroastrians do not worship the fire that is at the center of their prayers. The fire is merely a icon of God similar to the Kaaba in Islam or the Crucifix in Christianity. Zoroastrians relate to the brightness provided by the light of a flame as to that of the light of wisdom emanated by Ahura Mazda.

In contrast, Angra Mainyu is often thought of as a torrential abyss of ignorance, fear and darkness. Fire causes darkness to flee, it allows one to see, and thus it bestows the one with knowledge of what lies before him. Therefore, fire douses ignorance. Hence it can be deduced that according to the Zoroastrian creed, knowledge is the remedy to fear whereas ignorance is the source of it.

Another sacred symbol in Zoroastrianism is water. The element of water is considered a symbol of ritualistic purity as it is often used to cleanse oneself and it is seen to wield the power to support life.

Now, a crucial distinguishing feature of the Zoroastrian religion from its other monotheistic counterparts is the way Zoroastrians treat the dead. Unlike Jews, Christians or Muslims, Zoroastrians do not bury their dead. Instead, the corpse is left out in the open to be consumed by vultures – a bird considered holy by the Zoroastrian faith. As the exposed carcass turns into carrion, the soul is thought to be rid of its mortal shell and free to reach out to God for its Final Judgment.

The history of Zoroastrianism remains blurry even to this day. It is difficult, almost impossible, to pinpoint the exact date as to when Zoroastrianism emerged onto the scene as it first enters recorded history back in the mid-5th Century BCE but is obviously older than that. Approximation would put the date to somewhere back 3,500 years from now.

According to Zoroastrian tradition, the religion flourished “258 years before Alexander.” Alexander the Great conquered Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenids, a dynasty that ruled Persia from 559 to 330 BC, in 330 BC. Following this dating, Zoroaster converted Vishtaspa, most likely a king of Chorasmia (an area south of the Aral Sea in Central Asia), in 588 BC. According to tradition, he was 40 years old when this event occurred, thus indicating that his birthdate was 628 BC.

Now, there is no official testament to attest this claim but it is made clear through what little record we have of its history that Zoroastrianism first began sometime around 575 to 578 BC or something close to those numbers. What is important, though, is the rise of Zoroastrianism which took place somewhere during the regime of the great Archaemenian kings such as Cyrus and Darius, famously pious and devout Zoroastrians themselves – Zoroastrianism prospered greatly throughout the Archaemenian Era (549–331 BCE).

However, it all came to an end when the reign of the Archaemenian family over Iran was arrogated after the defeat of Darius III in battle at the hands of Alexander the Great. The war cost the Zoroastrians dearly as it claimed the lives of many priests and resulted in a cataclysmic loss of their sacred texts – the Gathas, nonetheless, survived.

After the death of Alexander came the Greek Seleucids to rule over the Persian dominion. Their reign lasted from 311 to 141 BCE. Zoroastrianism became regionally autonomous under the Seleucids. Next came the Arcasids who overthrew the Seleucids and ruled over Iran from 141 to 224 BCE. During this period, Zoroastrianism went through an era of renovation.

The Arcasids generally kept to the tradition of tolerance towards other faiths and were known to govern within the Zoroastrian Law of Asha (truth and righteousness) – similar to the Islamic Sharia and the Judaic Mitzvot – like the Archaemenians. Hence, their reign allowed the Zoroastrians a great deal of freedom to practise the faith of Zarathustra at liberty once more. The gathering of multiple Zoroastrian texts from the provinces started under the Arcasids, including that of the Vendidad – a book used to exorcise daevas, which is said to have been compiled sometime during this era.

Zoroastrianism’s final epoch of glory came during the reign of the Sassanids over Iran lasting from 226 to 651 CE. The regime came to power when Ardashir the Sasanian succeeded the usurped throne of a Persian vassal king. He rebelled and overthrew the Arcasids. This caused shock and resentment throughout Iran. However, Ardashir was a great politician and used religious propaganda to assert his authority. He cleverly based one of his claims to the throne on Zoroastrian orthodoxy, stating that the Arcasids were not orthodox Zoroastrians. During this period, Zoroastrianism experienced a vast upsurge in power as it became the state religion of Iran.

A single Zoroastrian church was created under the control of Persia and a single canon of Avestan texts was compiled by Ardashir's chief priest and religious propagandist, Tansar. This transition is very similar to Constantine’s declaration of Christianity as the state religion of Rome and the establishment of the Council of Nicea to oversee the compilation and canon of the Christian Bible.

Along with that came the development of the Avestan alphabet and an extension of liturgies. Fire Temples were promoted and traditional tolerance towards other religions that was long practiced by the Iranians was utterly abandoned resulting in the persecution of residential Jews and Christians living within the region.

By the end of the Sassanian period the authoritarian Zoroastrian church-state was immensely wealthy but at the same time more ritualized and oppressive. The umbrella of the Persian church kept Zoroastrianism dominant in Persia. This meant Zoroastrianism stayed free from the influence of other religions becoming popular at the time such as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. However, Zoroastrianism, under this church, had also become so abusive and power-hungry that, at the end of the Sassanian period, it was considered to have been as ripe for reform as Christianity was in Europe during the Middle Ages.

The Sassanid Empire lasted in power for over 400 years, routinely handing losses to the Romans while simultaneously maintaining trading relationships with Constantinople and Beijing. Their fall, along with that of Zoroastrianism, commenced during the Islamic conquests of the 7th century. Regardless, the reign of the Sassanian still influences Persian identity to this day.

The Arab Conquest of Persia, also known as Tajavoz-e Arab meaning “Attack of the Arabs” or Zohur-e Islam meaning “Dawn of Islam”, was the prime driving force that led to the end of Sassanid Empire in 644, and the fall of the Sassanid Dynasty in 651 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Iran.

The incursions took place in a series of three bouts: the first led by general Khalid ibn Waleed in the year 633 CE, the second led by commander Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas in 636 CE, and the third and final one led by the second and most celebrated Caliph of Sunni Islam, Umar ibn al-Khattab in 642 CE. By end of 651 CE, the Islamic Arab invaders had succesfully won the war and taken over all of Iran.

The disastrous effect this had on Zoroastrianism surpassed that of Alexander. Many libraries were burned and much cultural heritage was lost.

The Islamic invaders treated the Zoroastrians as dhimmis (People of the Book). This meant that, like Jews and Christians, they could retain their religious practices, but must pay jizyah – a per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state's non-Muslim citizens who meet certain criteria. There were also many other laws and social humiliations implemented to make life difficult for the Zoroastrians in the hopes that the people would convert to Islam. Over time many Iranians did convert and Zoroastrianism became a minority religion in Iran.

Later on, Zoroastrianism suffered yet another savage blow, this time at the hands of the invading Turks. This was followed by the exceedingly more damaging Mongol invasions which destroyed further religious texts and scriptures. This time the Islamic foundation also suffered irreparable loss.

Within half a century of the conquest, Gazan Khan converted to Islam and Zoroastrianism dwindled even further through renewed persecution.

Three centuries after the Islamic Conquest, many Zoroastrians fled Iran in search of a new land to practice their faith freely. They ended up on the shores of Gujarat and founded the Indian Parsi community.

Over the next few centuries, Zoroastrianism found a foothold in India and survived throughout the years with very few cultural reforms. All of that changed, however, due to the formulaic doctrinal attacks of the Christian missionaries in the 19th Century. Soon, the Zoroastrians were forced to undergo yet another period of rectification.

The Parsi priesthood, put under pressure and confusion due to the Christian campaigns, re-examined themselves and revamped their teachings utilizing re-interpretations of the Avesta indoctrinating elements of mainstream Hinduism into the faith, the effects of which soon trickled all the way back to Iran.

In consequence, Zoroastrianism, and its followers, adapted themselves to the rapid urbanization of the world around with unprecedented flexibility and integrity. And although, Zoroastrianism stands a dying creed today, the readiness of the Zoroastrians to hold on to their faith and prevail against extreme hardship allow the devotees to persevere against the Spirit of Destruction and reach out with renewed strength towards the Light of Wisdom.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi