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

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