15 April 2018

I believe... A bit about me

I believe.
I believe in a Higher Power, in a Creator of all and of everything.
I believe that it does not matter whether we call that Power by the name/title Adonai or God or Allah, what matters is that we believe.
I believe in intelligent design and also in evolution, in what I sense and feel and know in my heart yet also in what I see and hear and know in my brain.
I believe that the Creator sent down prophets to guide humanity on the right path - not the "close your mind to reason and believe what this particular book says or else..." path, but the path of love, of compassion, of empathy, of kindness, of justice, of righteousness, of mercy, of peace, of tolerance, of equality...
I believe that the Creator (aka The One / God / Adonai / Allah) gave me a brain and wants me to use that brain.
I believe that the Creator gave me a mouth and wants me to use that mouth not just to eat but to speak.
I believe that the Creator made me as He chose to make me (Nope, I don't believe that the Creator has a gender, however 'He' will suffice as He/She/It is such a mouthful). Female, outspoken, someone who questions everything, a rational thinker yet a passionate and loving human being. Someone who loves life and can be moved to tears by the beauty of reality and existence.
I believe all people deserve a place to call home where they can be free from oppression, hatred and violence.
I believe in dignity and human rights for all and am convinced that 'and it harm none, do as you will' and 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' is the right way to live.
I believe that people should be free to believe as they choose and to think as they choose, no matter what. I also believe that people should be able to act as they choose, for the most part, as long as others are not harmed or hurt by it. This is why I support the right of LGBT people and believe that same-sex couples deserve the same legal rights as 'traditional' male-female pairings.
I do not believe that gender or skin colour or race or religion define us - I believe that our words and our actions are what define us. My outside is only my outside, the stuff I inherited from my parents, but my inside is who I am. If you want to know me - don't look at my clothes or my hair colour or the shoes I wear but listen to what I say, read what I write, observe how I interact with the world around me...

06 April 2018

Anon, my Kurdish friend

I would like to tell you the story of a girl who was one of my best friends when I was a teenager. I'll call her Anon (anonymous) and keep the details vague to protect her privacy. Anon was born in the part of Kurdistan that lies in Iraq in the days when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq. After several family members and friends were taken captive and/or murdered by Hussein's regime, Anon and her family fled Kurdistan before they too would be murdered. The initial flight to safety took several weeks if not months while it would take years before they found a new home in the city where we met. My friend was a young girl when she left Kurdistan, yet when she talked about her childhood it was clear to see that the memories still haunted her. She'd get this far-away look in her eyes, as if she was looking at a movie of her own life, replaying images from her childhood on a screen only she could see.

Anon is one of the kindest and gentlest people I've ever met, someone always there for her family and friends, always ready with a smile or a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on if that's what you needed. She loved making others smile and laugh, loved laughing herself as well. When I think about Anon today, I remember the twinkle in her eyes when she smiled and the sound of her laughter most of all. To those who didn't know her story, Anon was just that - a smiling and laughing teenager. To those who did know her story, she was an inspiration.

Anon's family managed to take two photo albums with them when they fled Kurdistan. Albums with photos of their home, their life, their family members and friends, the country they called home. The world in those photos was completely different from the life I knew, yet through Anon's stories it became familiar to me. Sometimes, she'd show me a face in a photograph, tell me who that person was, what they had meant to her. At times her mother or one of her siblings would tell stories of their own about the person in the photo. Most of the places in the photos, they explained, were gone now. Of the people, some had fled, some had been murdered, some they had lost touch with and were trying to find information about. Those who had managed to get away were spread across the globe - families and communities torn apart by war, forced to find a safe haven away from their home and their people.

These words above, I wrote them on the 23rd of February 2015. That's over three years ago by now. As I read these words, my friend's smile comes back to me. The way I felt completely at home in her home, no matter what. The way her family accepted me, a bit like a lost puppy - The way they took me in, fed me, had me over to stay the night more times than I can remember, trusted me to babysit or help with the cleaning or explain an official letter in plain English. The way they showed me what it meant to have a family truly accepting of who I was as a person. The way they showed me what hospitality and friendship and unconditional love felt like. And yes, I remember the photo albums. As I was reading through my own words, I saw the photo albums in my mind's eye. And what I saw too was the sadness. All that history gone for good and all those people lost to time and death and distance. All those faces and all those places, only really alive and present and real in fading photos and in memories fading faster than the photos. My friend, her siblings and her parents, her other family members, the people in their town, the friends and family members who were arrested or taken or simply disappeared and were never heard from again... That, to me, is the face of war and loss. The tears in my friend's eyes as she'd talk about a family member and that far-away clinical way she'd recount the capture and execution of people she knew, almost as if the memories she shared weren't hers but someone else's. The way my friend's mother would smile through her tears, sitting there laughing, talking and gesturing, flat out refusing to make remembering loved ones a sad occasion even though she was talking about siblings, cousins and childhood friends who'd been murdered... That is war. That is loss. That is courage and that is love.

23 October 2017

What double standard? The 'Me Too' hashtag helps women speak out

Me Too? Yes. Me Too. #MeToo

It's something I don't talk about all that much unless there's a reason to. Partly because it can make me feel weak to admit it. Partly because I'd much rather forget. Partly because society tells us not to make a big deal out of nothing. Partly because I just want to keep going instead of crying or feeling sorry for myself. Partly because being harassed is something so terribly common that we've just accepted it as something to grin and bear, like crying babies on the bus or people loudly yelling into their phones on the metro or intimidating groups of teens on the train.

But yes. Me too.

Yes I've been harassed. Yes, I've been hassled. Yes, I've had strangers grab different parts of my body while walking down the street. Yes, I've been insulted and assaulted. Yes I've been objectified. Yes I've been told I'm a stuck up bitch because I wanted to enjoy the live music at a pub instead of being chatted up by some random dude. Yes I've been whistled at on the street. Yes I've had cars stop and strange men ask me to come with them on my way home from high school. Yes I've been treated like less than the men at work even though I did more, knew more, worked longer hours and worked harder. Yes I've been told that I'd look 'prettier' if I smiled more. Yes I've said no to sex only to have that no disregarded.

Yes, me too.
Yes, most women. #YesAllWomen, might be more accurate, in fact.

And no, not all men. Not each and every man. I know that. Every woman knows that. But enough men. Enough men to make it a problem. Enough men to keep us on our toes.

What if enough men committed to changing the world? To making the world a safer place for men and women alike? What if enough men chose, right now, to stop harassing and objectifying women? Because every woman out there is someone's mother, someone's sister, someone's daughter... If you don't want your mother to be harassed, if you don't want your sister be hit on by strangers, if you don't want your daughter to be objectified... Then set the right example, educate others and commit to making the world a better place for all of humanity.

22 October 2017

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene, is possibly one of history's most misunderstood women. A follower of Jesus, she is mentioned in the Christian Bible a number of times. Many think of her as a whore or a prostitute, despite the fact that she isn't actually called anything like that. Ever. I recently came across an article that described the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and was fascinated by what I read. Having read it, now it's time to share it with others.

In the age of #YesAllWomen and #MeToo, I believe that it is important to look at how women are portrayed today, and how they were portrayed in the past. Mary, the Magdalene, is a woman branded by history as something she probably wasn't at all - a prostitute, an 'easy' woman, a whore as modern-day people might describe her.

Yet upon reading the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, one's views may change, if only a little. While it's never been an official or unofficial gospel, the fragmented pieces of writing today known as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene shed a light on the Magdalene's role... And it may be different from what you expect...

A large part of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene is missing, including the parts that directly follow the quote I've included further down. Yet Mary who hailed from the town of Magdala on the Lake of Galilee, judging by the Gospel that bears her name, was one hell of an interesting woman. The Gospel was written in Sahidic Coptic, a dialect of Coptic that used the Greek alphabet (with a few additions) and was the leading Coptic dialect in pre-Islamic times, as well as the dialect in which most Coptic texts were written. The Gospel of Mary was written around the time of the other more well-known Gospels, yet is not included in today's version of the Christian Bible, nor in the Apocrypha.

"Few people today are acquainted with the Gospel of Mary. Written early in the second century CE, it disappeared for over fifteen hundred years until a single, fragmentary copy in Coptic translation came to light in the late nineteenth century. Although details of the discovery itself are obscure, we do know that the fifth-century manuscript in which it was inscribed was purchased in Cairo by Carl Reinhardt and brought to Berlin in 1896. Two additional fragments in Greek have come to light in the twentieth century. Yet still no complete copy of the Gospel of Mary is known. Fewer than eight pages of the ancient papyrus text survive, which means that about half of the Gospel of Mary is lost to us, perhaps forever."

Source: Gospel of Mary of Magdala: An ancient manuscript, a radical interpretation of Jesus' teachings | Beliefnet

Some of the parts of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene that are missing are pages 1 to 6, containing chapters 1 to 3. The part of the Gospel that is known to us today starts on page 7 of the actual text, with chapter 3. Also missing are pages 11 to 14. The Gospel of Mary is nine chapters long, yet only parts of it survive to this day. The surviving pages, however, show that Mary was part of Jesus' inner circle and learnt directly from him. The ideas put forth in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene may not at all be what one might think... Here's a sample:

Chapter 5

1) But they were grieved. They wept greatly, saying, How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare Him, how will they spare us?

2) Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you.

3) But rather, let us praise His greatness, for He has prepared us and made us into Men.

4) When Mary said this, she turned their hearts to the Good, and they began to discuss the words of the Savior.

5) Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman.

6) Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them.

7) Mary answered and said, What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.

8) And she began to speak to them these words: I, she said, I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision. He answered and said to me,

9) Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of Me. For where the mind is there is the treasure.

10) I said to Him, Lord, how does he who sees the vision see it, through the soul or through the spirit?

11) The Savior answered and said, He does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but the mind that is between the two that is what sees the vision and it is [...]

Source: The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene | Gnosis.org

The four gospels included in most versions of the Christian Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) all refer to Mary Magdalene. Just as 'Jesus of Nazareth' refers to Jesus who hailed from Nazareth (his hometown, although indeed perhaps not his birthplace), Mary of Magdalene indicates that the Mary mentioned refers to a Mary who was from Magdala. As Wikipedia explains, "Magdala (Aramaic: מגדלא / Magdala, meaning "elegant", "great", or "tower" (viz. "great place"); Hebrew: מגדל / Migdal, meaning "tower"; Arabic: قرية المجدل / Qariyat al-Majdal)" refers to a fishing town on the Lake of Galilee which is right smack in the area in which Jesus lived and preached. As a number of Jesus' followers were from this general area, it only makes sense that another prominent follower of Jesus of Nazareth, namely Mary Magdalene (as opposed to Jesus' mother who was also called Mary), hailed from the area in which Jesus lived, preached, healed the sick and taught.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, to me is the following part, which is also the last part:

Chapter 9

    1) When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her.

    2) But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, Say what you wish to say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.

    3) Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things.

    4) He questioned them about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?

    5) Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?

    6) Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered.

    7) Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.

    8) But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.

    9) That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.

    10) And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach. 

Source: The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene | Gnosis.org 

The words "that is why he loved her more than us" remain with me, and make me wonder why Jesus, reportedly an unmarried man and according to modern Christianity, the son of God, chose Mary Magdalene as the one to speak to and to impart wisdom to. As the Gospel of Mary Magdalene states (above), "Did he prefer her to us?" Was she special? Was she perhaps, as fiction recounts, the wife of Jesus? Was she a childhood friend? Was she a confidante of Jesus? The answer to question of who Mary Magdalene was exactly is buried in history.

Perhaps Jesus did prefer Mary to some of the other disciples in certain matters. After all, sometimes it is easier to speak to one person than to another. Sometimes a woman seems to grasp things that men do not believe and accept as readily. Seeing we are talking about events that happened more than two thousand years ago, what happened exactly will remain a mystery unless more original texts from around the time Jesus lived come to light. One thing I hope all who read this will agree on, is that no part of the Christian Bible was written in the time of Jesus. The words of the man many call the Christ were written down after his death. In fact, much of the Christian Bible consists of letters by those who never met Jesus the man. So, why not look to the Gospel of Mary Magdalene for wisdom, inspiration and truth Why not read this extraordinary text and learn more about one of history's most well-known figures? Why not read the words of one of Jesus' most prominent followers and see them as an inspiration Why not, indeed?

18 October 2017

Let's Do The Rock Test Again...

The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don’t Want To Be Accused of Sexual Harassment

You've probably heard of it and if not, this is your chance to read about it. Because yes, this deserves attention and yes, speaking as a female who's been harassed, felt up, assaulted, insulted and more, this approach is perfect. 

"While navigating professional relationships can often require that dreaded thing known as “any amount of work at all”, there is hope. You see, by following this one simple rule, you too can interact with women as people.

It’s as clear cut as this: Treat all women like you would treat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

I know, this sounds weird, but trust me, this is a visualization exercise that will work wonders in your dealings with the women in your workplace. When a woman approaches you, just replace her in your mind with The Rock. Then, behave accordingly."

Source: The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don't Want To Be Accused of Sexual Harassment | Medium

The article by author Anne Victoria Clark goes on to describe a number of possible situations a typical male might find himself in. Situations in which hitting on the person across from you who also happens to be female is not okay.

Say your colleague who happens to be female invites you and other colleaues along to after work drinks to celebrate a new project. What to do? What not to do? How to behave? How not to behave? Say a friend of a friend recently moved to your city and is looking to meet people and start networking. The two of you happen to work in the same industry, so she contacts you for a coffee and a 'let me pick your brain' session. What to do? What not to do? How to behave? How not to behave?

The answer, in all of these cases, is rather simple. Pretend like the person sitting across from you is someone you respect as a person, instead of someone you'd like to hit on, date, or spend the night with. Pretend the person sitting across from you looks like The Rock and then - yes, this part is crucial - treat them as you'd treat a strong male who could easily wipe the floor with you, no matter how tough you may think you are.

16 October 2017

The Dalai Lama Writes About World Peace

The Dalai Lama writes an amazingly inspiring and insightful piece which puts into eloquent words that which I stumblingly hope to confer to the world in my own way through this blog - we are all human, we all think and feel, we all need to learn to share our planet and we all deserve to live with dignity and respect.

I originally started writing this post in February 2015, then attempted to continue it later that year, before abandoning it again. It is now October 2017 and after resetting every password for this blog and the associated Twitter account, I've come back to it after barely thinking about it for more than two years. There are things I want to say, things I want to speak out about, things I want to write about... Doing that under my own name isn't always the smartest idea in this day and age, which is why I created this blog in the first place. What I write about however isn't all that controversial - equality for all, humans from different backgrounds understanding each other better, all of us as one learning to make the world a better place, loving our neighbours as ourselves, history and philosophy, religion and anthropology...

This post I'm writing today, it feels as relevant today as it did two and a half years ago. I'm having trouble deciding which bits to share as it's a long article and there are many 'quotable' paragraphs to choose from. I urge you to read the article yourself. Whether one is a Buddhist or a Jew or a Hindu or a Christian or a Muslim or a Noahide or an atheist doesn't matter - the Dalai Lama's wise words are not limited to only one religion and are not meant for only one group of humans - they are meant for all. Here's a short selection of wise words from A Human Approach to World Peace:

"When we rise in the morning and listen to the radio or read the newspaper, we are confronted with the same sad news: violence, crime, wars, and disasters. I cannot recall a single day without a report of something terrible happening somewhere. Even in these modern times it is clear that one's precious life is not safe. No former generation has had to experience so much bad news as we face today; this constant awareness of fear and tension should make any sensitive and compassionate person question seriously the progress of our modern world."

"I am sure that many people share my concern about the present worldwide moral crisis and will join in my appeal to all humanitarians and religious practitioners who also share this concern to help make our societies more compassionate, just, and equitable. I do not speak as a Buddhist or even as a Tibetan. Nor do I speak as an expert on international politics (though I unavoidably comment on these matters). Rather, I speak simply as a human being, as an upholder of the humanitarian values that are the bedrock not only of Mahayana Buddhism but of all the great world religions. From this perspective I share with you my personal outlook - that:

1. Universal humanitarianism is essential to solve global problems;
2. Compassion is the pillar of world peace;
3. All world religions are already for world peace in this way, as are all humanitarians of whatever ideology;
4. Each individual has a universal responsibility to shape institutions to serve human needs."

"In their quest for happiness, humans have used different methods, which all too often have been cruel and repellent. Behaving in ways utterly unbecoming to their status as humans, they inflict suffering upon fellow humans and other living beings for their own selfish gains. In the end, such shortsighted actions bring suffering to oneself as well as to others. To be born a human being is a rare event in itself, and it is wise to use this opportunity as effectively and skillfully as possible. We must have the proper perspective that of the universal life process, so that the happiness or glory of one person or group is not sought at the expense of others."

"The world is becoming smaller and smaller - and more and more interdependent - as a result of rapid technological advances and international trade as well as increasing trans-national relations. We now depend very much on each other. In ancient times problems were mostly family-size, and they were naturally tackled at the family level, but the situation has changed. Today we are so interdependent, so closely interconnected with each other, that without a sense of universal responsibility, a feeling of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, and an understanding and belief that we really are part of one big human family, we cannot hope to overcome the dangers to our very existence - let alone bring about peace and happiness."

"Whether one believes in religion or not, there is no one who does not appreciate love and compassion. Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others' kindness, why then in the middle should we not act kindly towards others?
The development of a kind heart (a feeling of closeness for all human beings) does not involve the religiosity we normally associate with conventional religious practice. It is not only for people who believe in religion, but is for everyone regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. It is for anyone who considers himself or herself, above all, a member of the human family and who sees things from this larger and longer perspective. This is a powerful feeling that we should develop and apply; instead, we often neglect it, particularly in our prime years when we experience a false sense of security."

"I maintain that every major religion of the world - Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism - has similar ideals of love, the same goal of benefiting humanity through spiritual practice, and the same effect of making their followers into better human beings. All religions teach moral precepts for perfecting the functions of mind, body, and speech. All teach us not to lie or steal or take others' lives, and so on. The common goal of all moral precepts laid down by the great teachers of humanity is unselfishness. The great teachers wanted to lead their followers away from the paths of negative deeds caused by ignorance and to introduce them to paths of goodness."

Source: A Human Approach to World Peace
The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

12 June 2016

Serabit el Khadim, Hathor, Moses, Mount Sinai and the Exodus

Serabit el Khadim is a mountain in the Sinai peninsula in Egypt. Near it are two other peaks with names that, to those who read the Torah / Pentateuch, may sound familiar: Jebel Saniya and Jebel Ghorabi. There is a temple to the goddess Hathor on Serabit el-Khadim.

After reading about the location in a fantasy fiction book that mentioned prominent archaeologist Flinders Petrie as well as the temple to Hathor, I became intrigued and wanted to learn more about this desert location. The book also mentioned the possibility that this location had been where Moses received the Ten Commandments, something that most definitely intrigued me as well.

I am personally interested in the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt and enjoy learning about the period of our world's history in which this Exodus may have taken place. Unlike many, I do not believe that Rameses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, believing it to be much more likely that the Exodus occurred around the time of Akhenaten. After all, Akhenaten changed the official religion of Egypt, turning it from a religion worshipping a large pantheon of gods and goddesses into one worshipping only a single god through Akhenaten - the Aten, depicted as the sun. As this Egyptian religion has a lot in common with the religion of Moses - monotheism - I started wondering what the connection was between the two.

According to the Bible, the tenth plague was the death of the firstborn males of Egypt. Akhenaten's older brother, the original Amenhotep III, died young and was the firstborn of his father. Akhenaten became Pharaoh only due to his older brother's death. What if the events Akhenaten witnessed as a child influenced him so much that he began to believe in the god of Moses and changed the state religion to one more in line with what he thought Moses believed and represented? While I am not someone who believes that every word in the Bible / Tanakh is true, I do believe that a lot of the stories in the Bible have a basis in fact. So, why wouldn't the Exodus also be based on actual events? Do I think events played out exactly as described in the Biblical books we know today? No. The Documentary Hypothesis sounds very plausible to me and I do believe that the Bible we know today is made up of stories from several different sources - stories woven together to make different tales into one narrative.

There is actual historical evidence that ancient Semitic peoples resided in north-eastern Egypt. There is actual historical evidence that the Egyptians used slaves to build many of the great monuments. There is actual historical evidence that Akhenaten lived - he was Tutankhamun's grandfather or forefather - and founded a new religion with its centre of worship based at Amarna. What if the ancient Hebrews helped build Amarna, instead of the store cities mentioned in the Bible? What if at least some of the Biblical plagues are based on actual events and inspired Akhenaten to make the sweeping changes he is so well known for today? What if...?

I am veering off-topic however, as I wanted to write about Serabit el Khadim. The website Mysterious World explains that Lina Eckenstein believed that Serabit el Khadim was the site of Moses' Mt. Sinai. Lina Eckenstein was a British polymath, historian, writer, researcher, philosopher, proofreader, translator, scholar, linguist and teacher. She was also a research assistant to Flinders Petrie, as well as someone who worked to change the role of women in society. She lived from 1857 to 1931 and, judging by the little information I've found about her online, sounds like someone I'd love to be stuck on a desert island with. Just imagine the stories someone like Lina Eckenstein could tell, the many amazing sights she'll have seen and the adventures she'll have had... I'm drifting off-topic again though. Back to Serabit el Khadim.

"As Eckenstein pointed out, besides fulfilling the geographical criteria as laid out in the Book of Exodus, the Serabit al-Kadim area also has many other outstanding features that the other locations do not share, including 1) the first recorded Semitic inscriptions, 2) a pre-existing temple complex (the Temple of Hathor, built over an even older Semitic temple), 3) a complete mining and manufacturing facility including substantial living quarters, and 4) a metallurgical facility including specialized tools, workstations and a crucible — all of which would have been necessary for Moses to have built the ark, the tabernacle and the associated furniture."

Source: Artifacts: The Exodus Revelation 1L Part 2: The Exodus | Mysterious World

Reading the paragraph above, Serabit el Khadim sounds like the perfect place for Moses to take his people to. Even the golden calf episode makes a lot of sense when one considers that Hathor was also known as the Cow Goddess as well as by many, many other names. To learn more about the origins of Hathor, read the very interesting article Origins of Hathor at the website if Sidney Rigdon.

Is it possible that the early Israelites took a lot of supplies with them when they fled from Egypt? Possible yes, however not all that likely when one considers they were, according to the story, being chased by an army. So, where did the people get the materials to build the Tabernacle with? Where did they get all the materials for the construction of the priestly garments? Reading about the construction of the Tabernacle and the making of the priestly garments as described in Exodus 38:21 to 40:38, one gets the idea that a lot of materials were needed for the construction / manufacture. Gold, silver, bronze, yarn in different colours, linen, precious stones, chains of pure gold, bells, clasps, frames, crossbars, posts and bases, ram skins, curtains... It seems logical that finding supplies in a desert can be hard (to say the least), which is why it makes sense to me that Moses and the Israelites did this at a location where supplies could be found.

Whether the Exodus as described in the Biblical Book of Exodus actually happened as described or not is something others have discussed for centuries. I am simply going with the answer that makes the most sense to me - some parts are based on fact while others are not. Even looking at modern-day reporting about an event, it often happens that different newspapers, television stations or reporters describe the same event in a different way - each from their own point of view, to influence readers / viewers to come to a certain conclusion or to promote a certain agenda. Just imagine what thousands of years of history, changes in religious mindset and thinking, as well as changes in understanding and culture might have done to change a story! Whether Serabit el Khadim truly is the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments is something only time will tell, if at all. Yet until we can be certain one way or another, it makes a lot of sense to me as a possible location for one of the most well-known happenings of the past several thousands of years.

12 February 2016

Anonymous, the famous author

Goodreads reviewer Manny wrote a very hilarious and entertaining review (well... not quite a review...) of the Qur'an / Koran on Goodreads. I laughed and chuckled and laughed and chuckled some more. Check out this very entertaining entry about famous authors, Anonymous and the battle of the Goodreads librarians:

Manny's Reviews > The Quran


03 February 2016

The Possibility of Peace in the Holy Land

Personally, I'm for peace between Israel and the Arab / Muslim world, the Palestinians included. I'm for a one-state, a two-state, a three-state or even a four-state solution IF that solution brings peace, prosperity and stability for ALL people of the region. I definitely do not think that Hamas will bring peace to anyone. They are open and honest about their desires: To destroy Israel and kill the world's Jews. Read the Hamas Covenant 1988 to find out for yourself, or read some excerpts of that Covenant through clicking the 'Hamas' tag underneath this post.

In an ideal world a "One Land Two States" solution would be my suggestion for peace in the Holy Land. Turning the presence and reality of Israel from a 'bad thing' into a 'good thing' in the eyes of Muslims might help them see that the Jewish people are NOT the enemy. Look at what Israel has achieved since 1948, look at how they have managed to make the desert bloom, look at the democratic and just society they are. In an ideal world, Israel would be the perfect teacher and guide for the Palestinians on their own way to becoming a free and democratic state. Yet in an ideal world, one side would not be actively trying to exterminate the other. Which means we are not living in an ideal world, we are living in reality.

I hear some of you say "Yes, but... Look at what Israel has done, look at how they treat the Palestinians." Words that seem to magically make terrorist attacks and repeated (and ongoing) calls for genocide 'okay' somehow because the 'poor Palestinians' are only reacting to the 'evil Israelis'.
To those people I say: Wake up, open your eyes and look past the story the media is spoon-feeding you. I am not saying that all Palestinians are terrorists, of course not. I am not saying that all Muslims support groups like Hamas and ISIS, of course not. However many Muslims do heed the words of their prophet Muhammad, words that are repeated in the Hamas Covenant 1988:

Article Seven: 

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees.

The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.

Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews."

(related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).

This hadith, related by two of the most respected and well-known hadith-collectors, is just as much part of the Islamic mindset as for instance praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan. It is as much a part of Islam as the fact that the words Islam and Muslim come from the same root word that also forms the word Salaam - Peace. It is not the view of all Muslims that Jews must (or should or deserve to) die, certainly, however it is the view held by many.

It sounds like a somewhat strange line from a war movie. "There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him." People who believe that these words are true, that they were spoken by a Prophet of God, that they are important words, I do not believe that these people will work towards peace. The extermination of an entire people is NOT okay. That is what the Nazis tried last century, that is what ISIS tried in 2015 when they hunted down, starved and killed so many of the Yazidi people. The Nazis targeted the Jewish people, gays, gypsies and other minorities. The so-called Islamic State targets anyone who doesn't agree with their particular brand of Extreme Islam - be they fellow Muslims, Christians, Yezidis or people of other faiths. For Hamas who rule the Gaza Strip and Fatah who rule the Palestinian-controlled parts of Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank), Israel is an enemy that must be targeted, Jews are a people who must be exterminated. That is the sad reality on the ground. The following is an excerpt from an article about Khaled Mashaal:

"Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land," he told the crowd on his first visit to Gaza. "We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take."
 ~ Khaled Mashaal, Hamas leader   |   Source: Tens of thousands celebrate Hamas 'victory' rally as exiled leader returns | The Guardian | Article Date: 08 December 2012

It may be relatively quiet right now on the rocket-front, however within a few years, rocket after Palestinian rocket will no doubt once again hit Israeli cities, towns, villages and fields. Until that time, Palestinians will send people to die in suicide attacks, will attempt to use knives, stones and cars to kill as many Israelis as possible. It does not seem to matter whether it is a pregnant woman who is stabbed or a mother who is brutally murdered in front of her children or a couple who die slowly as their children watch or a car driving into people simply waiting for the light to change or a teenager with a knife attacking people whose only 'crime' is waiting for the bus in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because the "poor, poor Palestinians" are simply acting out and oh, don't they just remind you of rebellious teenagers.  Somehow, the fairytale of the "poor, poor Palestinians" seems to be THE excuse needed for the world to find it acceptable that rockets are being sent at Israel, that teenagers are kidnapped, that innocents are being slaughtered. Not because of happenings in the last hundred years. Not because of the existence of the State of Israel since 1948. Not even specifically because the Palestinians want to finish what Hitler started, as I so often hear from shouting, masked men waving around IS and Hamas flags on the television news. When will the world stop believing in the innocence of the Palestinians? When will the media stop siding with the aggressors instead of the victims? When will we face the fact that Palestinians radicals are using Islam to slaughter as many Israelis as possible, as many Jews as possible? When will YOU learn the truth about what is rally going on and act to change what is happening? Peace is possible. Peace in Israel, in Gaza, in Judea and Samaria. Peace from the river to the sea, from north to south. Peace for all people, not just the ones with the best spin doctors. The only thing is... It might take a while:

“Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

~ Golda Meir (Statement to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 1957)

I originally wrote this post a year ago, in February 2015.
Now, a year later, I am posting it. Sadly, it is even more relevant today than it was a year ago.

14 October 2015

Today's Favourite Headline: "The Light of Israel is Defeating the Forces of Darkness"

Finally! A headline that makes me smile instead of wonder what the world is coming to. Instead of talking about Hamas or the Islamic State or threats made against the governments of European and other non-Muslim countries, today I'd like to talk about what's right in the world: "The Light of Israel is Defeating the Forces of Darkness" as the website United with Israel reports. What a joy to read those words!

The article (from exactly a year ago) reads like an advertisement for Israeli technology and innovation, showing the world that Israel, unlike the terrorists in neighbouring Gaza and Syria, is more interested in technological advancement and helping the world than wasting time on rape, murder, rocket attacks and destruction.

"On the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Law) we read how the universe was created – starting with the four words “Let there be light”. Today, Israeli solar energy projects light up countless homes. However, the Jewish State also has found another way to illuminate millions of lives – by removing the darkness itself."

Reading to the end of the article (if I wasn't pro-Israel already I would be now...) one finds out the article is actually meant to be an advertisement in its own way - it comes from the blog of Michael Ordman who writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel. With all the bad press Israel gets from the world's media, writing positive stories about Israel sounds like a pretty amazing idea! Check out the United with Israel story or read the article on the Very Good News Israel blog by Michael Ordman.

07 July 2015

Quran: A Reformist Translation by Edip Yüksel

I am a firm believer in the need for all religious systems to be open to changing (their interpretations and explanations) with the times, for people to be free to choose the religion they want to follow and to choose their level of commitment to that religion. I also believe that as long as one sticks to some basic rules most of humanity shares, we should all be free to live our lives as we please.

I wasn't born into a religious family, have never been formally accepted by any religion as 'theirs' and have never converted to any religion. Simply put: I do not officially belong to any religion. If one must label me by religion, it is fair to call me someone who believes what Noahides believe. That is to say that I believe in the God of the Torah, the Bible and the Qur'an - The God of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Muhammad and many, many people around the world today. To find out what God wants from me, I turn to the source, to the Jewish Bible. While I most certainly believe in God, I do not believe that the Christian view of Jesus as God / son of God is accurate. This means that I do not acknowledge Christianity as true and do not (nor have I ever) self-identify as Christian. While I respect all peoples' beliefs and find studying religions of the world to be very interesting and worthwhile, there are aspects of Islam that do not appeal to me, just as there are aspects of Christianity and other religions that don't appeal to me either. Thus: I am not a Muslim either, nor am I a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Wiccan or a member of any other religion. Yet that doesn't mean that I can't read books about Christianity or Islam or any other religion.

In fact - I would say that my conviction that Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the same God makes me more open-minded than many others might be. Thus, when I learnt about a version of the Qur'an that was different from the translations I had read so far, I was intrigued. The Reformist Translation of the Qur'an by Edip Yüksel is available in book-form as well as online. From Goodreads comes the following description:

The Reformist Translation of the Quran offers a non-sexist and non-sectarian understanding of the divine text; it is the result of collaboration between three translators, two men and a woman. It explicitly rejects the authority of the clergy to determine the likely meaning of disputed passages. It uses logic and the language of the Quran itself as the ultimate authority in determining likely meanings, rather than ancient scholarly interpretations rooted in patriarchal hierarchies. It offers extensive cross-referencing to the Bible and provides arguments on numerous philosophical and scientific issues. It is God's message for those who prefer reason over blind faith, for those who seek peace and ultimate freedom by submitting themselves to the Truth alone.

Source: Quran: A Reformist Translation by Edip Yüksel | Goodreads

A translation of the Qur'an that is non-sexist, non-sectarian and translated by a team that includes a woman to boot. Yes, I am most certainly intrigued. Perhaps it is just that the prospect of "extensive cross-referencing to the Bible" intrigues me (not a joke; I quite enjoy footnotes and references as they add much to the understanding of a text, especially when reading a translation)... Or maybe it's really that I am looking forward to actually reading about how this particular translation / interpretation of the Qur'an deals with the business of "provid[ing] arguments on numerous philosophical and scientific issues." Either way, I've only gotten through the very lengthy, detailed and informative introduction and am already mighty intrigued. If this book is truly as interesting as the introduction promises, then this version of the holy book of one of the world's largest reigions should be on every human's Reading List. Don't just take my word for it, check out what others have said (all quotes come from the book description - link as above - as found on Goodreads):

"A bold and beautiful translation that serves as a timely reminder to all believers that the Qur'an is not a static scripture, but a living, breathing, ever-evolving text whose sacred words are as applicable today as when they were first uttered by the Prophet Muhammad fourteen centuries ago."
- Reza Aslan, PhD., CBS News Consult-ant; Author, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.

"A testament to the fact that faith need not suffocate reason. This is bound to be among the smartest of 'smart bombs' in the battle of ideas within Islam."
- Irshad Manji, Fellow, Yale University and author, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith.

"I completely agree with you in your rejection of the right of any group to arrogate to themselves the sole interpretation of the Quran.... Your effort is praiseworthy. Well done. Keep it up."
- Kassim Ahmad, former president of Malaysian Socialist Party and head of Malaysian Quranic Society who was declared "apostate" by religious authorities for his controversial work on the Prophetic Traditions.

"This translation is the best tool for those who want to understand the uncorrupted Message of Islam - justice and peace. This translation shows that the Quran is but the confirmation and continuation of God's system memorialized through Abraham, demonstrated in Torah through numerous prophets, and in the Hebrew Gospel through Ye-shu'a/Jesus, the righteous of God. This translation is a message of peace, justice and judgment..."
- Gershom Kibrisli, theologian and communal leader, The Karaim of the Early Hebrew Scriptures, Holy Land & Benelux.

"This Reformist Translation of the Quran and its ancillary materials should begin many conversations, between and among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In many parts of the Muslim world this is a dangerous discussion, and sometimes that danger can reach well into the West, as evidenced by the 1990 fatwa-inspired murder of Rashad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona. It is an important discussion, however, and the editors of this book have assumed this risk to argue for a perspective that sets violence aside both in discourse and living. One can imagine that a broader adoption of their perspective across the Muslim world would reduce strife and invite greater examination of Islam by non-Muslims as something other than a threat. It would expand the conversation."
- Mark V Sykes Ph.D. J.D. Director, Planetary Science Institute.

"Very Interesting and Timely"
- Riffat Hassan, Ph.D. Professor of Religious Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. A pioneer of feminist theology in the context of the Islamic tradition.

"Quran: A Reformist Translation is also unique because it is the product of collaboration between two key figures in the pre-sent-day Qur'anist movement: Edip Yuksel and Layth Saleh al-Shaiban."

- Aisha Y. Musa, PhD, Professor of Islamic Studies, Florida International University; author of An Examination of Early and Contemporary Muslim Attitudes toward Hadith as Scripture (Doctoral Dissertation, Harvard University, 2004).(less)

23 June 2015

The Difference between Israel and Hamas...

What if they are wrong?

Read an article today that got me thinking. Sharing the first paragraph of the article here. Hope you'll head over to the Jewish Press to read the entire article. It's worth reading and the question the article asks is worth thinking about, no matter what you think about the Israel / Palestine situation.
With the BDS movement gaining momentum, many on the Israeli Left are increasing their calls for negotiations under the premise of a two-state solution. In their minds, the two-state solution is the only practical solution that could end the international isolation of Israel and lead to peace. But in the midst of the exhausted political ping-pong of whether or not the two-state solution is actually viable, the most important question often goes unasked – what if they are wrong?
Source: What if they are wrong? | The Jewish Press | 22 June 2015

Now, whether you went and read the article or not - and I hope you did, it's worth reading - do yourself a favour and use your imagination. Just for a moment, imagine you're living in Israel. Imagine you spent the summer of 2014 being bombarded by rockets, running to shelters, waiting for the siren to sound, hoping that just for a day, the rocket attacks against your country would stop. Imagine worrying about your friends, family members and loved ones. Imagine knowing that while you made it safely to a shelter, you worry about your son or daughter, your brother or sister, your mother or father, your cat or your dog, your new guitar, your home, your car. A rocket doesn't care about who you are, it doesn't decide not to hit you because you're waving a white flag. A rocket simply comes and strikes.

Do you live with neighbours who want to kill you, hurt you, even destroy you? Israelis do. Of course they also have many neighbours who simply want to live in peace, want their children to grow up, want to be safe and happy, want the fighting to end, want peace and safety and security for all people - Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians and Druze and people of all other nations, regions, countries and religions.

I hope that one day, Israelis and Palestinians will live in peace, side by side, as neighbours and friends, classmates and colleagues, brothers and sisters. I hope that one day, we will all live in a world where people do not want to kill other people, where we value life and love over death and destruction. If you want to help the people of Israel, if you want to help the people of Palestine, help make that world a reality. Help make peace a reality. Help by being part of the solution, by promoting peace, understanding and love over terror, distrust and hatred.

Wise Words - Gandhi