donderdag 31 januari 2013

Muhammad according to Charlie Hebdo

The French weekly Charlie Hebdo has published a booklet of 62 pages, in fact a first volume in a series about the life of the Peophet Muhammad. It is a quite serious text, following the nice and lively stories of the sirat in various recensions.

Muhammad is a funny figure, not the great sage or wise man, not the great politican, but a little dry, with humour and good understanding. I suggested that the Dialogue Academy of the Gülen sympethizers of Rotterdam should seek a partner for a Dutch translation. But the Platform Ins as it has been remained since this year, is still hesitant. I suggested to Alper Alasag that he should try to convice the big newspaper De Volkskrant to publish it together. But there was a big smile. One bridge too far?

 The birth of Muhammad. He had a special sign on his shoulder that was shown to a Jew, who recognised it a the sign for the New Prophet and thereupon the Jews disappeared. 
Seeing the drawing, Muhammad was already circumcised at birth, as is the common Muslim story.

There were many miracles at Muhammad's  birth: the palace of the Persian ruler, Khusraw, collapsed.

Muhammad worked for Khadija and was asked by her for a formal marriage. Her father was a difficult man. He already had rejected marriage proposals by many rich citizens from Quraysh, the tribe of Muhammad and certainly would not agree that a poor orphan should marry her. Khadija and Muhammad left below in a complot: much strong drinks should be given to the father and when drunk, he would consent in the marriage that should then be immediately formally regulated.
The first revelation by Gabriel (with the wings, left) to Muhammad, who does not like the call and turns away.

Isn't it a nice combination: the serious story (even with some 90 endnotes) and the lighhearted drawings!

donderdag 3 januari 2013

More Ayu Utami: Manjali dan Cakrabirawa

After the two books with stories of a engaged and loving priest Saman and Larung, Ayu Utami wrote Bilangan Fu as a literary pamphlet again Military, Monotheist religion and Modernity. Already in Larung the Javanese traditional religion played an important role. It is glorified in her third novel. The following novel was Manjali dan Cakrabirawa (2010). Marja, 19 years, student design and art in Bandung is more prominent as the key person. She has an official lover, Yuda, 24 years, also a student in Bandung, but more busy with mountain climbing, coaching and in this book he spends most of his time instructing military men in West Java. In the previous book Yuda was close to Judas as a traitor, still close to the true holy man. But here he may be also Yudistira, the gambling oldest of five Pandawa brothers who loses his fortune, the kingdom and even the wife to the five brothers, while Marja Manjali perhaps should not be identified with Mary Magdalene (lover of Jesus?), but with Draupadi, exactly, the wife of the five Pandawa brothers. Besides Yuda there is another young man, who becomes a more Platonic lover to Marja. This is Parang Jati (‘the perfect dagger/direction’), the man with six fingers on each hand and so the man with twelve fingers. The numbers twelve or hu is sometimes prominent in this book like the number fu in the previous one.
Central in the story is the archeological expedition to a Hindu-Javanese shrine on the border of Central and East Java, from the 11th century when there were many more local Javanese elements in the Hindu tradition. A French architect/archaeologist Jacques Cherer (= Jacques Dumarçay?) is quite often present in the book, more or less as an outsider observer and commentator. The ‘old wise man’. The shrine is devoted to Shiwa as Bhairawa, a wild manifestation of this divinity. He is male, macho, violent. There is a 13th century statue from Sumatra in the national Museum of Jakarta. Utami made her own sexually more explicit drawing.
The shrine Calwanarang is from the time of King Airlangga, a pluralist (accepting both Hinduism and several Buddhist sects, 100). In that time there was a couple Bahula (son of the wise man Barada, who kills the witch Calwanarang) and lady Manjali. The shrine tells their story.

Ayu Utami draws in a less solemn, wilder and more sexual aggressive way her Bhairawa. Below the statue in the National Museum of Jakarta.

This Cakrabirawa (the modern Javanese version of Bhairawa) is also the name for the special military division that had to protect President Soekarno. Its commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Untung was the central figure in a coup that killed seven major generals, but then was halted by General Soeharto. In the aftermath if this failed coup more than one million people were killed, accused of leftist or Communist sympathies and the PKI or Communist party was banned while the country was ruled for more than 30 years by a harsh military regime.
While working at the excavations of the shrine, Marja meets a lady who lives secretly in the forest, more or less like a hermit. She was married to a soldier who was a member of the Cakrabirawa brigade, was arrested and killed after the failed coup of 30 September 1965 (G30S). The lady, Murni (= Pure), was pregnant when her husband was arrested. She was also arrested and her child, a boy, was taken away from her. Marja for some time thinks that she is not a common human, but some kind of spirit, perhaps related to the witch Banaspati who is fond of menstruation blood. In reality, she has her period at this moment and some people accuse her that she is impure. Later she realizes that the Gerwani or Communist Women’s Organization was accused of drinking the blood of the generals they had killed at G30S. But Murni proves to be a true human being.

Durga as Banaspati as drawn by Ayu Utami on p. 177, here representing the spouse of the wild Bhairawa, but also spouse of Bahula. Manjali and even resembling Sinta.

While the excavations go on, Yuda is giving climbing lessons to soldiers in West Java. He wants to hide this fact for Parang Jati who hates the army and violence. One of his most industrious students of some Musa who invites him to join to a brothel in the evening. Yuda does not have sex with one of the ladies, but gives as an excuse that he is a traditional Javanese who in now in a 70 days period of fasting to gain power. He will lose this power when he has a sexual ejaculation. This episode (59-64) is a description of the hypocrisy of the soldiers and their brutal use of their power (also when Musa joins Yuda in a tour to his teachers at the university in order to obtain a postponement for his examinations). Musa is fond of all kind of magic and wants to find the powerful Cakrabirawa mantra and therefore comes to the place of the archaeological search.
Parang Jati and archaeologist Jacques decide that they will hand over the valuable finds of the excavations to a government official of the archaeological service. This is not successful because the official is attacked by Musa who steals the valuable golden remains. But in an attempt to find more, Musa falls in a very deep old pit and only through the climbing skill of Yuda he can be rescued, although he is initially still in coma. It turns out, that the pit near the shrine was dug for the burial of the husband of Murni. Musa has a special kind of snake around his neck and so is recognised by Murni as her son who was taken away from her some 30 years ago. This episode seems to be rather accidental and not really easy to believe. It reminded me of some episodes in the novels of Murakami who also has many mysterious powers steering human destiny.
Musa is recognised because he has a symbol of snake around his neck, with some other symbols. These are also drawn by Ayuu Utami.

The novel is announced as a roman misteri dan roman spiritualisme kritis.
It is clear from the quite fragmentary description above that much Javanese spirituality has been put in this nice book. Page 181 has even a deep sentiment about the wonderful atmosphere of peace and spirituality in the period of Airlangga (Betapa damai dan spiritual masa Airlangga). Sex and spirituality are here in many pages, sometimes in contrast like the hypocrisy of Musa the soldier, but often also reinforcing, when control of sex gives spiritual strength. There is a political position against the Soeharto government and its crude suppression of Communism.
            Marja, Yuda and Parang Jati are not particular religious. About the latter it is even explicitly said that he has respect for religious rituals but does not practice them himself. He calls himself a critical spiritualist, whatever it may mean. He does not pray, not the Muslim salat, Bali-Hindunese praisa, food offerings, meditation of some kind of yoga, or whatever ritual there is. (209: Ia menyebut dirinya seorang spiritualis kritis. Marja talk pernah melihat Parang Jati melakukan ritual. Apa pun yang bisa dianggap Marja sebagai ritual: berdoa, sembahyang, sholat, memuja, mempersembahkan sesajen, bermeditasi, sejenis yoga, atau apa saja. Yuda juga tidak. Tapi, berbeda dari Yuda, Parang jati tidak pernah mencemooh hal-hal yang tidak dia lakukan itu.)
            The only outspoken Catholic in this book is the French archaeologist, Jacques. He confesses that he believes in reincarnation, notwithstanding his Catholic faith. Marja says that reincarnation is a Hindu and Buddhist belief, not a Catholic one. ‘Indeed. No. But Catholics know a concept of “cleansing fire”. That is called the Purgatory. The souls of the deceased that are not yet holy must cross a  cleansing fire” before they can enter heaven. The length and intensity depends upon our sins. Well, now it is our duty to define further the character of this “cleansing fire”. Theologians and artists or earlier periods in the European Church have described it as some mild kind of hell that is not so brute. There is fire, and devils, but also angels who are waiting to carry our souls when the sins are already roasted away.’ Jacques laughs in a modest way. ‘But nowadays I like to think about it as some kind of reincarnation. We are born again, in a long series until our soul has been purified and we may attain heaven, that is nirwana like in the Eastern religions. The “cleansing fire” does not work in a realm of souls, but also in this world.’ (41). Marja is happy with this explanation and asks why the Church does not teach it this way. Jacques suggests that that more painful description is more effective to push morality harder. Le mystère.
            Another theological talk is between Jacques and Parang Jati who suggests that we all commit sins but also perform good acts. ‘Sin can be something that we commit. But it may also be something that gives birth to us, creates out weakness. Something at the origin. But human beings are able to choose. Man has a free will, after the original sin.’ ‘Oh, la la, that sounds as if we here Saint Augustin talking.’ (239)  These Catholic theological fragments are just short interludes among many other themes in this book. Some people complain about the complex structure of her books, the many themes that are only touched upon and not elaborated in full length. Other readers estimate that this is the strength and the richness of her work. It is never boring, always full of surprise, asks for an attentive and understanding reader. It always combined daily life in many aspects with spirituality, mysticism, some sense of the mysterious, often in a very unexpected and critical way. Truly roman misteri dan roman spiritualisme kritis as it is announced on the cover text.

woensdag 2 januari 2013

A debate about Merry Christmas

During the last two weeks there was a debate among various people who sent me messages about Christmas Greetings. All my friends like to wish me peace, health and everything best at the occasion of Christmas. But there was some Muslim who did not like to receive Christmas greetings, because he was not a Christian himself. It would be odd or even improper to send good wishes at the occasion of Maulid, the celebration of the Birthday of the Prophet, to people are 'member' of another religion.

This is a complicated question. I made it quite simple and wrote as a comment about two personal anecdotes:

Above is a picture of myself, while living in the Pesantren of Gontor in early 1971
In 1987 I was working at the Islamic University of Yogyakarta (then still IAIN) as an international visiting professor. One morning I received a visit from an English young man, a musician who held a similar position at the Arts Academy of Yogyakarta. He told me that he was in love with a nice Sundanese, West-Javanese lady and wanted to marry her. One condition of the family (and his fiancée) was that he should embrace Islam first. He told me that he was born in a religiously indifferent British family, formally member of the Anglican Church. He had read some good books on Islam, learned how to pray and said that he wanted to accept Islam. To me, a non-Muslim specialist in Islamic Studies, he asked advice how to do this. And, when possible, within the time limit of one week!  I gave him advice to address the imam of the campus mosque, brought him in contact with this man and a few days later there was a conversion ceremony. I was invited and attended the ceremony. After a speech by the imam, this mosque leader invited this young man to renounce Christianity and repeat the Shahadat as a confession of his new faith. As usual there were some sambutan after the formal conversion. I had seen already in the beginning, that I was also on the list of sambutan.
When I was given the opportunity to give my talk, I first criticized the imam. According to the best of my knowledge, there is no need for someone who once had formally embraced Christianity, albeit in a modest and not really active way, to renounce Christianity as a whole. Christianity is accepted as a religion, sent by God to mankind, preached by Jesus, son of Mary. But, I still praised this young man for his step to take religion serious in his marriage and to become more active religiously. From a sleeping believer he had become a more practising faithful and so I could happily attend this ceremony.
A report of this ceremony was included in the magazine Suara Muhammadiyah and several priests of Kota Baru, the eminent Jesuit library, criticized me for having accepted the invitation to speak at this ‘Islamisation’, but I repeated my argument that I could be happy with someone becoming religious active, also in a Muslim tradition.
There is a nice story in the Gospel of Jesus about a shepherd who misses one sheep and leave 99 unattended to seek that one sheep. And it concluded with the saying: ‘there will be more rejoicing in heaven about one sinner who repents than over 99 who do not need to repent’ (Luke 15:7)
During a ceremony, probably an examination, at IAIN Sunan Yogyakarta, about 1987. Left of me is Dr. Simuh
The second anecdote I want to tell is about a much earlier period. As a Ph.D. student I applied for a stay of three months in the pesantren of Gontor, for participant observation of daily life in the school. I was accepted to live there and follow classes. Finally I asked that I also could join the prayers. I told them that I was a Catholic but did like the style of Muslim prayers. I was questioned about the most common rituals, washing and ablutions, the quick style of praying Al-Fatiha (also Catholics say the prayers in the rosary very fast, like Muslim say al-Fatiha at great speed). Then I was asked to read Surat al-Ikhlas and to comment on it. Allahu ahad .. Lam yalid wa lam yulad:  I could convince them that the Christian Creed starts with the confession that God is One and that there is no compromise to this statement. Then I was asked about the second sentence of al-Fatiha  (ashhadtu an la ilaha illah Allah). I had to confess that many Christians do not really feel love for Muhammad, known little about him and that he has a bad reputation sometimes, but that I personally love the Qur’an and feel in the Qur’an also the religious and social drive of Muhammad as a great inspirator for 1/5 of mankind. That I consider him a gift of God to mankind and therefore happily join the confession that he is a Servant and Prophet of God. Pak Zarkasji accepted my comments and allowed me to join the Muslim prayers. Although he later prayerd that I should become a ‘full Muslim’ and I said inshallah, may God turn me into a good Muslim in the sense of Muslim with a capital as explained by Nurcholis Madjid, as someone who surrenders to God.

So far, some comments about joy at religious festivals, over the boundaries.