zondag 13 juli 2014

The Holy Books: Sidney Griffith and Lejla Demiri

Sidney H. Griffith, The Bible in Arabic. The scriptures of the 'people of the book' in the language of Islam, (Princeton University Press, 2013) is book with many themes. It gives many observations of a ripe and wise scholar of Arab Christians, living in 'the shadow of the mosque'. The first chapters deeply mirror the conviction that Arab Christian at the time of Muhammad had no books, probably did not use Arabic in their liturgy. They may have had some liturgical books, but in Syriac/Aramaic. In fact they were bi-lingual: in daily conversations they used Arabic and must have used Arabic with people of the new religious communities that grew in their region. Only after the rise of Islam a more or less full translation of Christian and Jewish Scripture was made (in the framework of other translations from Hebrew, Greek, Syriac). For the Jewish community this was not done for liturgical or religious goals, but we may accept that Muslim were in some sense interested in the content of the Jewish (and Christian) scripture. Also the Christian did not use initially (and for many churches until today) Arabic in their liturgy. The Qur'an is the oldest larger text in Arabic. The translation of the Bible was not previous to the Qur'an but came later.
Griffith is quite outspoken in his criticism of scholars like Hendrik Kraemer who suggest that Islam only is a vague and bleak excerpt of Christian ideas. We should not consider Muslims as the successors to the Ebionites or other Jewish-Christians of the first and second century AD. The Qur'an knows about the subtle differences between the Christian (and Jewish) traditions and has an agenda of its own.
In broad lines a history of polemic and serious study follows. Among other sources al-Biqa'i (15th century, Egypt) is mentioned as someone with an 'eccentric insistence on consulting the Bible as the Jews and Christians have it, an undertaking that earned him onloquy in the Muslim community' (96).

Another book is edited by the German-Syriac Timo Güzelmansur, Das koranische Motiv der Schriftfälschung (tahrif) durch Juden und Christen, Regensburg: Pustet, 2014. Two Muslims and three Christians discuss the difficult subject of the good/right/proper  text and interpretation of Jewish and Christian scriptures: falsified? Corrupted? The two Muslims take older examples: Mohammed Abdul Rahem presents the ideas of Muslim scholar Mahmud Al-Alusi (1802-1854, Baghdad). Abdul Rahem defended in 2012 his doctoral dissertation on Freedomof Religious in Münster and teaches in German at Al-Azhar.

 Lejla Demiri (quite a difference: with and without the veil) was born in Macedonia, studied in Istanbul, in Rome (Gregoriana) and defended in 2008 her dissertation in Cambridge (published in 2013) on biblical studies of Najmuddin al-Tafi (died 1316), a student of Ibn Taimiyya. Tufi makes a distinction between textual corruption of the biblical text and deviant or wrong interpretations. In most cases he accepts the text of the Bible, but gives different interpretations than the Christian tradition. Like in the case of al-Qisa'i, with Tufi the text of the Bible is open and discussion starts with ananalysis of the text.
The recent German publication has nog sought easy solutions. It would have been more convenient to take Faxzlur Rahman (Qur'an 100% ndivine inspiration; 100% words and thinking of Muhammad) or Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (all readers create their own meaning of the Qur'an) as counterparts for the Christian theologians. In this case more interest is asked for the continuity and the raditional approaches to the existing texts.
At this moment I received also a message from Yogyakarta, that my book The Jesus Verses of the Qur'an is translated in Indonesian by Sahroni Syamsuddin and colleges. Next week I will read the Indonesian text and give comments, hoping that by the end of this year the UIN Sunan Kalijaga Press will have printed the new translation.

Ayu Utami, Sagitarius

I follow the writings of Ayu Utami since more than ten years. It started with the novels on the priest Saman who worked for the villagers in their fight against the big plantations. At the conference of scholars with interest in Indonesia, Lissabon July 2013, I gave a paper on the idea of religion in her novels, with the basic book Bilangan Fu as the most important contribution.
Ayu has several ambitious projects: the series on Saman and Larung, the series Bilangan Fu, and also the course of writings short stories for some 60 participants at Salihara, cultural centre in Jakarta.In this volume Ayu writes seven stories, while four participants have given each one story.
I read it as a series of impressions about growing up in Bogor of a girl Indira. There is a zoological museum, a legend of the minotaurus, half-human and half-animal lika sagittarius. This is the mysterious atmosphere, like in many novels of the Bilangan Fu series. There are stories of corruption (the head of a library is transferred to a small town, because she suggested that her soperiors were corrupt).
In a circus Indira falls 'in love' with the acrobat, but her father is fond of the female attendant and they visit the performances in one months ten times. The movies of Steven Spielberg also have a mysterious character and they are much loved by Indira and friend. The main character marries and wants children. The husband is an atheist and Indira finds it abnormal, even a sin to be so close to an atheist. Their relation is not really flourishing. - I found it pleasant reading, but did not find deeper descriptions of issues like sex and religion, but they are mentioned in passing. I read already Capricornus and saw also a cover of Scorpio. Sometimes Ayu is like Arnon Grunberg: writings so many short pieces that it is difficult to follow it all. Probably that is not necessary to have an idea of her work.

donderdag 26 juni 2014

Ayu Utami, Maya

In her series Bilangan Fu now the third additional volume has appeared after the main book. Maya (published in Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, December 2013, 249 pages, 42 chapters). The novel connects the main figures of the Saman Series (the priest Wisanggeni who has a love affair with the married woman Yasmin, the medical student and journalist Larung) with the central characters of the Bilangan Fu series, especially the spiritual leader Suhubudi and his centre near Yogyakarta. Parang Jati, the mysterious son (12 fingers, parents unclear) plays an important role.
The main story is that Yasmin with her daughter Samantha comes to the compund of Suhubudi with letters from Saman that must be given to Saman's father. She asks the help of Suhubudi to fulfill this mission, but in fact not much is done with these letters (that were sent from Amerika to IND, first understood as India and so they took two years before they arrives in Jakarta, also because JK was interpreted as Jammu-Kashmir). An important story line is about the precious  stone that was found by Parang Jati and later given to Saman. Suhubudi gives advice to Yasmin but suddenly has to leave for Jakarta to give a consultation to President, who on 21 May 1998 will resign as president. - A sideline in the book is the theatre group of disabled people who perform a wayang play of the Ramayana story in the compound of Suhubudi. There is another guest in the compound, the Indian Pak Vinod who organizes an international Ramayana festival in Chennai and wants to invite the disabled people (among them Maya who plays Sita).
The micro-level of the story is embedded in the larger history of modern Indonesia, with impressions about the way Soeharto took over the rule of Sukarno, his good start but many cruelties and opression of civil liberties, ending in his abdication in chapter 41.
Another background that plays an important role are aspects of Javanese spiritual and cultural lore: much about Semar (not like Rama and Sita who died, not like the prophets who died, still alive like the Holy Spirit, our inspiration, p. 178).

I give here some highlights, in line with my special interest and preparation for (another) article on her work. A first article, to be published in Wacana, journal of Faculty of Humanities, UI Jakarta concentrated on the novels. My second will deal more with  the columns and other writings, but also with the central themes of Modernity, Monotheism and Military: the three evils that are the enemies of all her writings.

Yasmin is not really spiritual: Ia tak begitu tahu apa itu spiritualitas. Baginya cukuplah ia punya agama; semua orang normal fi Indonesia berlangganan agama: she has no good or deep feeling for spiritual things. It is enough for her to be registered in a formal religion, like most Indonesians. (p. 15)

Jesus Christ is mentioned is someone who did not discriminate lepers (and other physically disabled people), p. 64-6. In line with Christ also Yasmin 'decided to love these miserable creatures'. In chapter 22 theology of liberation is discussed as the best approach to both society and spiritual elements of life.

There is not much about sex in this book. Chapter 26 gives a portrait of the psychology of Yasmin and her husband Lukas. He is an academic and a government official. She is a lawyer: they felt guilty having sex before marriage and therefore they married too quick, without proper preparation. Recently Lukas became more critical of the government and this turn to leftist ideas (in 1996, only two years before the fall of Soeharto) he became somewhat leftist: this also improved their relation.
The first chapter gives a dream of Yasmin where she imagines the priest Wisanggeni/Saman first in the ceremony of ordination to priesthood, but later at another place, where he is naked, looks like Jesus on the cross, but also attractive and the have sex. There is further not so much about sex in this novel. In one of the last chapters it is described how Yasmin has more interest in personal psychological contact and not so much in sex anymore.

Chapter 24 concentrates on Wisanggeni as a student of theology: at that time he was 'so busy with ordination for priesthood' terlalu sibuk ditahbiskan), and therefore he had no interest in social and political affairs and did not protest against injustice.

Page 197 presents the early Muslim missionaries in 16th century Java as orang berjubah men with cassocks, white long robes. There is much about traditional Javanese lore, quite often a Catholic milieu, but very little about Islam or Muslims. Chapter 34 is very interesting in the defense of  spirits dwelling in rocks, trees, mountains, rivers. Yasmin regrets that she did not learn to respect the spirits of nature and that she is not able to make an offering, sesajen.

zondag 8 juni 2014

The Academic Diplomacy of Budi Hernawan

3 June 2014 Budi Hernawan was in Leiden. He is an Indonesian Franciscan Friar, an acedemic and peace activist. He is now working in New York as part of an NGO lobbying for peace in Papua. At KITLV, the Leiden academic institute for Indonesian Studies he presented aspects from the first part of his doctoral dissertation: Torture in Papua as a Theatre: reconstructing abject citizenship of Papuans was the title of his lecture. [His dissertation can be found on the internet. The second part is about peace-building]


Budi Hernawan gave a quite dry, sober and analytical survey about the processes of torture in Papua. The players: police seeking OPM weapons and suspects. They do not speak a local language, while OPM members very often cannot speak Indonesian.
Budi mentions aspects of torture: it is like a ritual, a theatre, is public, spectacular, painful. He has identified 431 cases of torture. In all these cases only 2 OPM leaders/activists had weapons, all others were unarmed civilians. He analyzes the 'perpetrator factors': they follow orders, especially members of the army; they deny the cruelty or defend their actions ('the suspects defended themselves, attacked'), some like it and do it for fun. In all cases is the victim no longer considered a human being.
There are also various elements to be analysed among the spectators.
Among the audience (some 25 people, most Dutch academics, some Franciscan Friars) one was a diplomat of the embassy in The Hague. On the picture above he is on the left side.
He asked that he considered it impossible that this was government policy after the Soeharto regime fell in 1998? He was a very eloquent and honest yong man. Nico Schulte Nordholt remarked to me 'that is a good diplomat!'
Budi Munawar answered in a calm way  that there are double instructions: about the goal of the policy and about the mild/restricted use of violence  but the lack of control and the impossibility to bring any government official, let alone the army to court. Only in one of the 431 cases there was a judicial case, but not torture, but inobedience was the 'crime' of the military.
The debate then turned more general to the monopoly of violence of the government and the practice of premanism or the use of criminals for political goals. In the movie The Act of Killing there was Jusuf Kalla as prominent member of Pemuda Pancasila (and Vice-President at the time) who defended the wild and criminal actions of these militia members against any opponents of the government.
Anton van der Ploeg asked why the violence in Papua has been worse than in Aceh of East-Timor: is it racism? Are Papuans the lowest on the scale of Indonesian civiliazation, at least in the eyes of the superior ethnic group? Are they not seen as common Indonesian citizens?

zaterdag 7 juni 2014

(De-)Kristenisasi in the Middle East?

12 May 2014 Herman Teule gave his valedictory lecture in Nijmegen as professor of Christianity in the Middle East. His title had as title: Lif and Death (?) of Christians in the Middle East. His title refers to a book of French diplomat Jean Pierre Valognes who wrote recently a book under the same title. In 2008 there was also a quite sensational book by Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, where Jenkins describes how a majority of Christians lived once in countries that are now dominated by Muslims.
Herman Teule gave a great summary of diverse relations between various Christian denominations and Islam. Besides dark period (especially the Mamluks were criticized for their lack of tolerance), there were also periods when Christians really participated in the Arab-Muslim society and had great contributions to this civilization. The contribution to the translations of Greek text in Arabic in the Dar al-hikmah was an absolute topper here.
Herman foto 2















Teule blamed the tendency of Western European countries and churches (included the Vatican) to  claim a cooperation and close identity to these Christians and separate them from Arab Muslims.
From the Syrian Metropolitan of Europe (now living in the Netherlands, migrated from East Turkey and Syria during thelast decades) he received a calligraphy, but it must have been a gift with some negative aspects as well: these Syrian Christians (besides the Coptic Egyptian and Armenians, who now have both churches in my town of Utrecht) are diminishing in the Middle East because many members move towards western countries.
In the history of Islam the word Andalusian syndrome is used for the once powerful and prosperous communies of Muslim in Spain. They disappeared. In India the Muslim influence has declined sharply after the arrival of the British  and the independence in 1947 with the emergence of Pakistan asa Muslim State.
In Indonesia Muslims are afraid of the declining influence, but also Christians feel threatened by hardline Muslims. As to the battlefield in the Middle East for Teule the only solution is that Christians feel really Arabs, but also are accepted as such by the Muslim Arabs.







woensdag 28 mei 2014

Asian Art and Dutch Taste

The Municipal Museum of The Hague has at this moment a nice exhibition: on Asian art products, made for Dutch consumers and therefore a mixture of Western and Asian models, taste and refinement. Much is from the collection of the museum itself, but also from a special rich lover of this art, Jan Veenendaal, unknown to me. It is a small exhibition: three rooms, but filled with good pieces.
It was a rainy day and so we were happy to be inside this light, modern building from the 1920s or 1930s. uch is, of course, from the Dutch East Indies, quite much also from Sri Lanka. Because of the preparation for a trip to Japan, planned for October this year, we had special interest for some art works from Japan. There was a large copy of a small painting: with two groups of ladies, mixed Dutch/Japanese.

Nice views, these examples of mixtures of several cultures.  In fact a process that happens everywhere.

Mathieu Wertenbroek and the SVD order in Flores

Mathieu Wertenbroek (born 23 October 1914, 's-Hertogenbosch) was a Dutch medical doctor who served between February 1951 and April 1954 in Larantuka, with his wife Anja Medendorp. He was a gifted man: had studied science, had been a teacher, and became a psychiatric specialist after returning to the Netherlands. He had much interest in history and anthropology. Several historical works (or rather collected documents in Malay or Lamaholot) are still at KITLV in Leiden. was also an artist and made many drawings. In 1998 a book was published with selections out of the two volumes of his Larantuka diaries. He has on many pages observations about Catholics, traditional religion and sometimes about Muslims in East Flores. I here present an abridged translations of pages 86-88 of his Schetsen van Smaragd. Tekeningen en dagboeknotities van een tropenarts in de jonge Republiek Indonesië (Nijmegen: Valkhof Pers, 1998, 119 pages).
Meal at the presbytery

In 1913 the mission was transferred from the Jesuits to the SVD order, but only after World War I this could become effective, Through education nearly the whole population became Christian. The Portuguese influence is still visible in Larantuka and is shown at great ceremonies at the the occasion of the Holy Week and Christmas, as well as through Portuguese hymns that are still sung.
The organisation of the mission ran smoothly. They picked up things that were left by the government. Mission was fully in hand of the mission. Now it has been taken over by the government, but with the result that salaries do not arrive or come late. On the seminaries everything goes easily. There were donations for poor students and even fellowships for gifted and promising young students to pursue higher studies in Europe. The workshop of the mission were craddle for craftsmen: smiths, carpenters, masons. Agriculture was modernised under guidance of the mission. It was the mission that accompanied Flores to the future.
Bishop Leven

Ende had a big printing house, where books and journal were printed, because illiteracy was, thanks to the school system of the mission, at the lowest level of Indonesia.
There were also big plantations for coffee where the mission made an example of good enterprise, but it provided also funds for the financing of all kind of other activities. The brothers who managed the plantations were brave cowboys, who managed their business effectively, provided jobs for many native people and taught them for later practice.

Gabriel Manek, the Indonesian Bishop

The mission judges that we do not receive a proper salary by pemerintah, the administration. They do not agree that we pay monthly for our furniture that was given by the SVD order. They apologize for the fact that also our salary is not regularly paid by the government. They continue to flood us with vegetables and eggs from the minor seminary in Hokeng. I addressed the dean myself and underlined that we are not really in such a difficult condition, that we need all this support. We know that the mission itself is also short of money, because nobody pays to them. The reason is that other people also do not receive the money they should receive.
... Just a short example of text and drawings, especially related the the Catholic mission: there are also many nice examples from contact with local people through medical practice. Nice book! To conclude Alex Beding (called Bediona, the first priest of Lomblen, page 101).