Wednesday, September 19, 2007

the hidden hand

See how the hand is invisible while the pen is writing;
the horse careening, yet the rider unseen;
the arrow flying, but the bow is out of sight;
individual souls existing,
while the Soul of souls is hidden.

Rumi: Mathnawi II:1303-1304
version by Camille and Kabir Helminski via Sunlight

These lines come from a lengthier meditation around the Koran 8:17 which reads:

You did not slay them, but God slew them; and when thou threwest, it was not thyself that threw, but God threw, and that He might confer on the believers a fair benefit; surely God is All-hearing, All-knowing.

trans Arberry

The first line (of this excerpt) also seems to be echoing that most famous quatrain from Omar Khayyam:

The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Omar Khayyam, version by Edward Fitzgerald

In Khayyam's version, we get a sense of the inevitability of events as nature's immutable laws are applied to the "now", creating a fixed past and (implicitly) determining a fated future. It is very much a Newtonian world befitting an astronomer-poet but it can be read as equally true whether from an atheistic or from a theistic standpoint (as is quite common in Khayyam).

In the Whinfield version, Rumi's meditation ends with another echo from Khayyam as follows:

Whatsoever is seen is weak and base and impotent;
What is hidden is equally fierce and headstrong.
We are the captured game; who is the snare?
We are the balls; where is the bat?
He tears and mends; who is this tailor?
He fans and kindles the flame; who is this kindler?
At one time He makes the faithful one an infidel,
At another He makes the atheist a devotee!

Rumi: Masnavi I Ma'navi: Book II, Story V, trans E.H. Whinfield

The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss'd Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all--HE knows--HE knows!

Omar Khayyam, version by Edward Fitzgerald

Clearly this Ultimate Agent is capable of both "yes" and "no", of both "right" and "left", of both tearing and mending, of driving humanity to despair or to total worshipful commitment. Put baldly, this Ultimate Agent is capable of both Good and Evil, of both Just and Unjust, of both True and False, of both Beauty and Filth. As embodied in the Islamic deity Allah, He even admits such quite plainly:

Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, though you should be in raised-up towers. And if a good thing visits them, they say, 'This is from God'; but if an evil thing visits them, they say, 'This is from thee.'

Say: 'Everything is from God.' How is it with this people? They scarcely understand any tiding.

Whatever good visits thee, it is of God; whatever evil visits thee is of thyself. And We have sent thee to men a Messenger; God suffices for a witness.

Whosoever obeys the Messenger, thereby obeys God; and whosoever turns his back -- We have not sent thee to be a watcher over them.

They say, 'Obedience'; but when they sally forth from thee, a party of them meditate all night on other than what thou sayest. God writes down their meditations; so turn away from them, and put thy trust in God; God suffices for a guardian.

What, do they not ponder the Koran? If it had been from other than God surely they would have found in it much inconsistency.

Arberrry version: IV:80-84 [my emphasis]

In case Arberry is confused, here is another version:

78 Wheresoever ye may be, death will overtake you, even though ye were in lofty towers. Yet if a happy thing befalleth them they say: This is from Allah; and if an evil thing befalleth them they say: This is of thy doing (O Muhammad). Say (unto them): All is from Allah. What is amiss with these people that they come not nigh to understand a happening ?

79 Whatever of good befalleth thee (O man) it is from Allah, and whatever of ill befalleth thee it is from thyself. We have sent thee (Muhammad) as a messenger unto mankind and Allah is sufficient as Witness.

80 Whoso obeyeth the messenger hath obeyed Allah, and whoso turneth away: We have not sent thee as a warder over them.

81 And they say: (It is) obedience; but when they have gone forth from thee a party of them spend the night in planning other than what thou sayest. Allah recordeth what they plan by night. So oppose them and put thy trust in Allah. Allah is sufficient as Trustee.

82 Will they not then ponder on the Qur'an ? If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein much incongruity.

Pickthall version: 4:78-82 [my emphasis]

In summary, then, Allah is the Absolute Agent behind Absolutely Everything (implicitly including both Good and Evil). And yet - almost in the same breath - Allah denies that He is behind the Evil, for that is humanity's responsibility, not His. Thus does He demonstrate His capacity for mendacity, injustice, delusion, or witlessness, depending on how one reads this second declaration. Finally, just two breaths away, He boasts of His own logical consistency as evidence of His authorship of the Koran. The implication is that it would have come from Satan had it contained incongruities. Since He has just baldly demonstrated these very incongruities, we are left with a Being that surely embodies both Good and Evil, both Allah and His own shadow Satan.

Much as Islam, through Jasser, shot itself in the foot in my last post, so in this one it is Allah Himself who shoots Himself in the foot.

I'm adult enough and have seen enough of the world to know that it is true that Good and Evil sit together in this world, as do Truth and Falsehood, Justice and Injustice, and so on. It is in my nature to prefer a deity that admits as much rather than indulging in this hypocritical game that Allah so delights in. That is why I prefer my own Goddess of the Perfect Mind:

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.


I am the one who is honored, and who is praised,
and who is despised scornfully.
I am peace,
and war has come because of me.
And I am an alien and a citizen.
I am the substance and the one who has no substance.


I, I am sinless,
and the root of sin derives from me.
I am lust in (outward) appearance,
and interior self-control exists within me.
I am the hearing which is attainable to everyone
and the speech which cannot be grasped.
I am a mute who does not speak,
and great is my multitude of words.

The Nag Hammadi Library: The Thunder, Perfect Mind, translated by George W. MacRae @

mona lisa


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