zaterdag 17 mei 2014

Religious views on history: glorious deeds or full of misery?

My former students of the late 1980s in Yogyakarta, Shafaatul al-Mirzanah asked m for a copy of an article by Angelika Neuwirth from Journal of Quranic Studies 2008:1-120. It is on tw vision of creation and history. It compares Psalm 136 with Surah 55 (Ar-Rahman). They have some striking similarities: both are a litany of praise for God. After each sentence (apart from the beginning of Sura 55), there is an acclamation: His love endures forever in the Psalm, more critical in Sura 55: O which of your Lord's bounties will you and you deny?
Besides similarities there are also differences: both texts praise God for our world, creation, nature where God's signs can be found. The Psalm praises God for many acts in history: from the Exodus from Egypte to the defeat of many enemies and the lovely country where they are now living in peace under God's protection. In Sura 55 there is also much praise for God's creation and this is followed by a praise for the delicious situation in the paradise hereafter. This description of Paradise is seen by Neuwirth as a corrective continuation of the Arabic poetic style of the qasida  where poetry often starts with pessimistic view on old civilizations that have gone. Here a positive view is given for the end of history. "The Qur'an derives the necessity of human confidence in God not from his works in history, but rather from his deeds in creation and his power of resurrection." The Muslim text is skipping history. Why? Because the Quran has a negative view on history: many prophets were sent by God but neglected, humiliated, even killed by their people. From Adam to Noah (neglected and rejected by his people), Abraham who left his people, Moses who was always in trouble with his people and finally Jesus who was brought to the execution place, to the cross.
Neuwirth sees Sura 55 as a 're-reading of the Psalm , thus in the very place where it deviates from the Psalmkist paradigm of history, re-installs reflection on history - by re-writing ancient Arabic poetry.'
In general I like the interpretations of Angelika Neuwirth very much, already since her very precise and modest book on the Meccan suras of 1980. But this construction of a contradiction between the two visions is too theoretical and speculative. Below we will see, that is only a construction not the full reality. Bothtradition are more complicated than is shown in this simplified difference.

These weeks we read in our Sunday service in St. Johns Church in Utrecht Acts of the Apostles. Let me begin this reflection with an image by Jyoti Sahi: Stephan received in grace by God after he was stoned.


Stephen was a powerful preacher. He saw the history of his people as one great deception: Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon and finally Jesus were in conflict with their people . Jesus brought guidelines for a good life without the strict text of Moses (that proved to be no effective) and without the cult of the temple. Below an image of Jyoti Sahi, where the people who throw stones on Stephan take their stones from the temple (and so also destroy the temple). The stones look likes seeds, but the ultimate seed is Stephan himself who will be another beginning of the community of Jesus.

This looks like a vision of history like dominant in the Quran and in Muslim vision: the optimistic psalm 136 considers history as one great gift of God for his people, but Stephan is like the Muslim prophets more pessimistic.
But as to content, there is a great dance in the drawing of Jyoti Sahi: in Acts 3, after Peter and John have healed a beggar sitting in front of the temple, all people leave the temple, dancing, not to return. Is this a vision of secular society now in Europe, happy leaving religion?

Geen opmerkingen: