Monday, January 18, 2016



hangs a curtain of pearls
threaded with infinite skill:
each pearl reflects every other pearl,
suspended in its moon gleam.

We too are interlaced
more than we dare believe.
We dream of heaven
because we have known hell. 

My mother, already unconscious,
lifted her arm and reached out
as if to lace her hand with the hand
of someone waiting on the other side.

Then she went into that love.

~ Oriana © 2015


“One of the ways to decide whether or not the God of Christianity and Islam really is the same entity is to look at his characteristics as understood by Christians and Muslims, and determine whether they really do represent the same person. To do this, we will look at three aspects of the Christian and Muslim God that each receive much emphasis in both the Quran and the Bible. These are his power, his mercy, and his love.

POWER. Both Islam and Christianity emphasize that God is all-powerful; he knows everything and has the power to do anything. In Christianity this is called his omnipotence; the Arabic equivalent is “ala kulli shain qadir”. There is, however, a distinct difference in how each religion views God exercising his power.

The first stories in the Bible show God not stopping evil, even when he could have, when this was in conflict with the ability he had given humans to exercise freedom of choice. God could have stopped Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, knowing it would have disastrous consequences, but he did not. He could have stopped their first son, Cain, from murdering his brother Abel, but he did not. In theological language, it was not God’s “divine will” for the couple to eat the fruit or their son to kill his brother, but he allowed it to happen.

Parallel to this is the Biblical concept that God acts in the midst of evil to produce good. This is seen in the story of Joseph, a young man who was sold as a slave by his jealous brothers. While in slavery, Joseph was falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. Many years later he became the Prime Minister and eventually saved his brothers from famine. His comment to them was, “You meant evil against me, but God turned it into good.”

Islam sees God’s power quite differently. Everything that happens is God's will, good or bad. When a planned terrorist operation goes bad, the jihadists interpret it as God's will they were not to succeed this time (which goes along with the Islamic concept of "sabr" or patience; that is, they try again until successful). If a woman's husband divorces her it was "maktoub", ordained by God to happen. Many drivers in Saudi Arabia refuse to carry vehicle insurance because insurance indicates a lack of faith in the God who determines if and when they will have a accident. I was talking to a Muslim friend a few weeks ago when he spilled some coffee on his slacks. His immediate, and serious, response was, "God wanted me to spill that coffee on my pants."

In summary, both Allah in Islam and the Christian God have the power to do anything, but in Christianity God often allows humans to commit evil that is not his will. In Islam, all that happens is the will of Allah. Are these the same deity or not?

MERCY. The next characterization is "rahmah", or mercy, which can be theologically defined as showing kindness to an offender when it is within one's power not to do so. God's mercy, "rahmat-Allah"" is a very important concept in Islam. Muslims who perform the required salat five times a day repeat "in the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful One" seventeen times. The phrase is repeated before meals and speeches, and is a regular part of daily conversation. It is the opening sentence of all but one of the Quran's 114 suras.

The Bible also places much emphasis on mercy. The prophet Micah instructed his audience that God required only three things of them: justice, humility, and mercy. Another prophet, Hosea, taught that God preferred mercy to sacrifice. Jesus said in the Beautitudes, which are the introductory sentences to his Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

There is a difference, however, in the emphasis. In the Bible, God's mercy is extended to everyone and Christians are to do likewise. The Golden Rule is to treat people as you would like them to treat you, not to give them what they deserve. Jesus told his followers to do good to those who hated them, and to forgive their enemies. In Islam, God's mercy to the world extends to giving people the choice to accept Islam. In surah 21 of the Quran, Al-Anbiya, Allah stated in ayah 108 that Muhammad was sent as "a mercy" to all mankind. In the following verses, Allah defined his mercy. Muhammad was to invite people to Islam and warn them against associating anything with Allah (this was a specific warning to the Christians not to believe that Jesus was God). If they did not accept the invitation, Muhammad was to pronounce a declaration of war.

I noted above that 113 of the 114 suras of the Quran begin with the verse, "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful One." The only chapter that does not is chapter 9, Al-Taubah or Repentance, which contains Muhammad's final revelation before his death. This chapter contains the famous "Verses of the Sword" which give detailed instructions on how this war is to be carried out against those who refused the "invitation" to become Muslims.

Is the God in Christianity, who extends his mercy to everyone and asks those who believe in him to do likewise, the same deity as the Allah of Muhammad who expresses his mercy by giving people the opportunity to accept Islam or face warfare?

LOVE. The final consideration is love. It is perhaps here that the difference between the Gods of Christianity and Islam is the most striking. The Bible not only uses the word “love” hundreds of time to describe the relationship between God and his people, it even insists that God is love. This in itself provides a theological problem to the Muslim purist, because to state that God is anything at all is impossible. Allah is above human knowledge and the Quran is an expression of Allah's will, not who Allah is.

The Arabic word for love “hubb” appears in the Quran numerous times, but usually in a negative sense. Quran 14:3 is one of a dozen verses that chastised people for “loving this world more than the world to come”. Muslims hesitant to engage in armed jihad were warned in Quran 2:216 not to "love things" that were bad for them while turning away from warfare that was good for them. In Quran 3:119 Muslims were ordered to curse non-Muslims who pretended to love them while rejecting their faith. The Quran warned that God does not love sinners (Quran 2:190) and those who are corrupt (Quran 5:67). His greatest hatred, however, is reserved for all the kuffar, that is, Christians and Jews and everyone else, who did not accept the message and prophethood of Muhammad. Quran 3:32 is one of many verses that state Allah does not love those who do not obey his Apostle.

Muhammad's understanding of Allah's love is perhaps most clearly expressed in this Hadith recorded by Sahih Muslim (Book 032, Number 6373). Muhammad stated that when Allah decided to love someone, he would summon the angel Gabriel and say, “I love that particular person, and I want you to also love him.” Gabriel would then begin to love that person and announce to all the angels of heaven, “Allah loves so-and-so, and all of you are to love him.” The angels then, as the heavenly executors of Allah's will, would arrange matters so that honor was bestowed upon this person on earth and he or she would lead a blessed life.

If Allah, on the other hand, decided to hate someone, the same scenario would take place but with opposite results. God would tell Gabriel to hate that person, Gabriel would pass the message to the angels, and that person would be hated on the earth.

The answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this article, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”, is pretty clear to me. It's possible to argue that the true divinity is the God of Christianity or the Allah of Islam — or take the atheists approach and say both of them are equally false. But it's really hard to claim they are both the same.

Acknowledgement: Some material from this post was adopted from the Arabic TV shows Daring Question and Removing the Veil with host Rashid.”



If the article happened to have the title “Are Jesus and Allah the same god?” then the answer would be a thundering No, without any qualifications. In fact, according to Islam, Christians will go to hell for worshipping Jesus (arguably the real god of Christianity). That alone should give us a pause. In fact the discussion could end right there.

But even if god is identified with Yahweh, it turns out that the concepts of the divine are different, both in Judaism and in Christianity. As Harold Bloom pointed out some years ago, there is no “Christian-Islamic tradition.”

For one thing, in Christianity god is called “father.” The most important prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, begins with the words “Our Father.” Allah is far more impersonal — definitely no one’s father. He has no son or sons. Humans are not his children. Within the logic of Islam, since no one resembles Allah, Allah could not have said, “Let us make man in our image.”

Also, it’s telling that the emblem of Allah is the lunar crescent. This clearly points to his pagan origins as the moon god, the chief god of the Quraish, Muhammad’s tribe (a god who by the way had three daughters before Muhammad canceled their existence). The Black Stone of the Kaaba (possibly a meteorite) is still the sacred object in Mecca, receiving veneration. The names Yahweh and Elohim, used thousands of times in the OT, never occur in the Koran. The bible mentions Jerusalem, “the city of David,” 800 times; the Koran, not even once.

And Yahweh-Elohim is specifically the god of Israel, a phrase never used in the Koran. Nor are the Jews Allah’s “chosen people”!

(Of course Yahweh also had polytheistic origins, but those were different — and are still murky: was he the god of storm and thunder, or a war god? Did he live on mountain peaks, and later behind the veil in the temple? Or only in the sky, his throne a winged chariot? Did he come from Mesopotamia, or somewhere in Egypt?)

Close-up of Yahweh in tapestry designed by Pieter Coecke van der Aeist, Palazzo Pitti
To me, the red-gold robe has a Chinese feel. More important, note that Yahweh is not handsome. It's interesting that the Greeks made their gods beautiful, but poor Yahweh was never made to look appealing, not even by Michelangelo, though he modeled him on Zeus.

Muslim also insist that “Allah” cannot be translated as “Dios” in Spanish or “God” in English; it must remain “Allah.” When Muslims speak English, they still say “Allah.” That makes it not a generic term, but closer to a specific name — or at least a deity separate and different from the one worshipped by Christians.

(For those who think that “God” and “Allah” are interchangeable, imagine if it said on our money “In Allah we trust” and children recited every day “one nation under Allah.”)


This kind of list could go on. It is of interest to scholars and to those fascinated by the field of comparative religion — but it would get wearisome to the average lay reader, especially one who realizes that all religions are a human invention. What is relevant today is not the matter of names, but the attitude toward violence.

It has become a truism that the bible is filled with violence, and no one can claim that it is a less violent text than the Koran. There is no denying that both texts show a peculiar duality, since they are both violent and yet frequently mention mercy. The New Testament, however, goes beyond the concepts of mercy and compassion: it introduces the idea of non-violence and even of extreme pacifism (no killing even self-defense).

“Love your enemy” is the most radical statement ever made. Even though most Christians reject extreme pacifism, they are aware that the call to it was made by Jesus. It remains an unerasable fact, and a central part of the Christian ideal.

One may argue that this extreme pacifism cannot be said to define the teachings of Jesus — and yet at no point does he call for killing anyone. It simply cannot be said that Jesus of the gospels is a violent figure. Muhammad, on the other hand, was a warrior, a military leader who engaged in multiple wars. Islam embarked on wars of conquest from the very start.

(Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a distinction between the Mecca-period Muhammad and the Medina-period Muhammad: it was the latter who became a man of violence.)

Atrocities committed by Christians in the Middle Ages and beyond are now a deep source of embarrassment. Mainstream Christianity, though it hasn’t achieved a complete consistency (it still retains the concept of hell) has evolved in a manner that has brought it closer to the teachings of compassion, forgiveness, and indeed peace. There is also a call for dropping the idea of hell — already redefined by Pope John-Paul 2 as a state of mind, rather than a place of horrific eternal torment. In liberal Protestant churches, hell is no longer mentioned, having become an embarrassment.

Mainstream Islam, on the other hand, still upholds and justifies the waging Holy War. The harsh punishments prescribed by Sharia law find widespread popular support, as do various Jihadist organizations. The belief that a suicide bomber goes directly to paradise has not been contradicted by any well-known Islamic leader.

Hopefully Islam will evolve in the direction of peace, but at present it is not a religion of peace.

Here is Ayaan Hirsi Ali writing in Salon:

My argument is that it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of radical Islamists can be divorced from the religious ideals that inspire them. Instead we must acknowledge that they are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in Islam itself, in the holy book of  the Qur’an as well as the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad contained in the hadith.

Let me make my point in the simplest possible terms: Islam is not a religion of peace.

For expressing the idea that Islamic violence is rooted not in social, economic, or political conditions—or even in theological error—but rather in the foundational texts of Islam itself, I have been denounced as a bigot and an “Islamophobe.” I have been silenced, shunned, and shamed. In effect, I have been deemed to be a heretic, not just by Muslims—for whom I am already an apostate—but by some Western liberals as well, whose multicultural sensibilities are offended by such “insensitive” pronouncements.

Now, when I assert that Islam is not a religion of peace I do not mean that Islamic belief makes Muslims naturally violent. This is manifestly not the case: there are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam. Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offenses, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy, and even something as vague as threats to family honor or to the honor of Islam itself.

Yet from the moment I first began to argue that there was an unavoidable connection between the religion I was raised in and the violence of organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the self-styled Islamic State, I have been subjected to a sustained effort to silence my voice.

 Elsewhere, Hirsi Ali writes:

As I see it, the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts. It simply will not do for Muslims to claim that their religion has been “hijacked” by extremists. The killers of Islamic State and Nigeria’s Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.

. . . I believe that we can distinguish three different groups of Muslims.

The first group is the most problematic. These are the fundamentalists who . . . envision a regime based on Shariah, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version. What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.

I shall call them Medina Muslims, in that they see the forcible imposition of Shariah as their religious duty. They aim not just to obey Muhammad’s teaching but also to emulate his warlike conduct after his move to Medina. Even if they do not themselves engage in violence, they do not hesitate to condone it.

It is Medina Muslims who call Jews and Christians “pigs and monkeys.” It is Medina Muslims who prescribe death for the crime of apostasy, death by stoning for adultery and hanging for homosexuality. It is Medina Muslims who put women in burqas and beat them if they leave their homes alone or if they are improperly veiled.

The second group—and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world—consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence. I call them Mecca Muslims. Like devout Christians or Jews who attend religious services every day and abide by religious rules in what they eat and wear, Mecca Muslims focus on religious observance. I was born in Somalia and raised as a Mecca Muslim. So were the majority of Muslims from Casablanca to Jakarta.

Yet the Mecca Muslims have a problem: Their religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity—the complex of economic, cultural and political innovations that not only reshaped the Western world but also dramatically transformed the developing world as the West exported it. The rational, secular and individualistic values of modernity are fundamentally corrosive of traditional societies, especially hierarchies based on gender, age and inherited status.

Trapped between two worlds of belief and experience, these Muslims are engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to Islam in the context of a society that challenges their values and beliefs at every turn. Many are able to resolve this tension only by withdrawing into self-enclosed (and increasingly self-governing) enclaves. This is called cocooning, a practice whereby Muslim immigrants attempt to wall off outside influences, permitting only an Islamic education for their children and disengaging from the wider non-Muslim community.

It is my hope to engage this second group of Muslims—those closer to Mecca than to Medina—in a dialogue about the meaning and practice of their faith. I recognize that these Muslims are not likely to heed a call for doctrinal reformation from someone they regard as an apostate and infidel. But they may reconsider if I can persuade them to think of me not as an apostate but as a heretic: one of a growing number of people born into Islam who have sought to think critically about the faith we were raised in. It is with this third group—only a few of whom have left Islam altogether—that I would now identify myself.

These are the Muslim dissidents. A few of us have been forced by experience to conclude that we could not continue to be believers; yet we remain deeply engaged in the debate about Islam’s future. The majority of dissidents are reforming believers—among them clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.

The Medina Muslims pose a threat not just to non-Muslims. They also undermine the position of those Mecca Muslims attempting to lead a quiet life in their cultural cocoons throughout the Western world. But those under the greatest threat are the dissidents and reformers within Islam, who face ostracism and rejection, who must brave all manner of insults, who must deal with the death threats—or face death itself.

For the world at large, the only viable strategy for containing the threat posed by the Medina Muslims is to side with the dissidents and reformers and to help them to do two things: first, identify and repudiate those parts of Muhammad’s legacy that summon Muslims to intolerance and war, and second, persuade the great majority of believers—the Mecca Muslims—to accept this change.

(he saw a caliphate would be a nightmare; Islamism is basically fascism)

It was while in prison, surrounded by several prominent jihadist leaders, that Nawaz realized he wanted to take a different path. He was reading George Orwell's Animal Farm and came to a new understanding of "what happens when somebody tries to create a utopia.”

He says he began to see that it's "impossible to create a utopia."

"I'm living up close and seeing [the radicals'] everyday habits and lifestyle, I thought, 'My god, I wouldn't trust these guys in power,' because when I called it, back then, and said, 'If this caliphate, this theocratic caliphate, was ever established, it would be a nightmare on earth,'" Nawaz says.

Nawaz discusses sexual repression and how he was lucky to be able to get married at a young age, and how unresolved sexual tension can lead to ugly pathologies.

He also states that Islamism as a movement is relatively recent. It’s basically fascism, with the ideal of a super-state and super-people.

"Now, when we see what ISIS is doing in the name of this theocratic caliphate, I believe I have been vindicated that these guys, any of them, if they ever got to power, they would be committing mass atrocities," Nawaz says.

How to counter it? The democratic, anti-theocratic movement within Islam must present a strong counter-narrative. Nawaz points out that the young don’t join Stalinist-style communist groups because that narrative has been discredited and is not attractive anymore.

Time to relax with a bit of levity:



There's new evidence reaffirming that eating foods with fat from avocados and salmon to dairy fat doesn't make us fat.

One of the moderately high-fat diets included a daily serving of one avocado.

In one sample meal plan, lunch was chicken salad with half an avocado, and dinner included turkey tacos with another half an avocado.

The diets were similar in terms of macronutrients (like protein and fats) and calories. The only difference between the two was the avocado — the other diet had the same amount of fat from other sources.

The avocado diet decreased LDL cholesterol about 14 milligrams per deciliter of blood. Compare that with a decrease of about 7 mg/dL for the low-fat diet, and about a 8 mg/dl drop from the moderate-fat diet.

"I was surprised to see the added benefit [of the avocado]," Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition scientist at Penn State and the lead author of the study, tells us." It's something in the avocado" other than just the fat composition, she says.

She says she'd like to do follow-up research to look at the bioactive compounds in avocados, which may explain the added reduction in LDL cholesterol in the study participants. It's also possible that the fiber in avocados plays a role in the cholesterol-lowering effect, she says.

The liver produces most of our cholesterol. Also, we need a certain level of the supposedly "bad" LDL cholesterol. And for women, what seems to count more is high HDL -- in one study, avocado increased HDL by 11%. Still, people with the same cholesterol levels may or may not have heart disease — inflammation is probably the critical factor. Stress is as bad as smoking. Still, an avocado-rich diet is probably better than a low-fat diet, especially if the low-fat diet is mostly carbs.

Another piece of the puzzle is that high thyroid is excellent at reducing LDL cholesterol, but increases the risk of an ischemic heart attack; hypothyroidism protects seniors from an ischemic heart attack, but raises the risk of hypertensive heart failure. Past a certain age, something will eventually get us. Life is a sexually transmitted disease, and no one gets out of it alive.

Based on my own experience, I do recommend an avocado a day for a different reason: like all fat, it makes you feel satisfied. When I tried a low-fat diet I was constantly hungry and became an eating machine. Atkins was regarded as evil, a kind of dietary Darth Vader back when I discovered him, in those horrible days when "whole grains" were the Holy Grail. He was my savior.

ending on beauty

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

~ E. A. Poe

photo: John Guzlowski


The the selection of pictures could be among your best The first fractal is amazing and goes perfectly with IN THE HEAVEN OF INDRA.

Some Jews and Christians also believe that everything is the will of God and that “there are no accidents.”

The section on Allah’s “love” is especially scary. “His greatest hatred, however, is reserved for all the kuffar, that is, Christians and Jews and everyone else, who did not accept the message and prophethood of Muhammad.” Exactly the opposite teaching of Jesus.

This was excellent research on Islam. Also some interesting information on Islam can be found by searching, “islam infidel.”

Hirsi Ali has become a real role model for me. Love her article.

And thank you for those “ending on beauty” endings.


Oriana: THE REVOLUTIONARY NATURE OF “SHIT HAPPENS” (aka “the First Noble Truth”)

The teachings about the will of god are indeed confusing (as are lots of things in religion). On the one hand, Yahweh supposedly did not will Adam and Eve to eat the Forbidden Fruit — hence free will. On the other hand, there is supposed to be the eternal and immutable Divine Plan. Nothing happens except in accordance with the Divine Plan (if your prayers are not answered, that’s a sure sign that your request was not in line with the Divine Plan). Unlike the Soviet five-year-plan, god’s master plan spans eternity, and apparently went into effect on the first day of Creation.

The Calvinists were pretty logical in deciding that everything was predestined. Only modern physics, with its probabilistic approach, managed to abolish our tendency to see determinism everywhere (including the Jungian determinism; Jungians too believe that “there are no accidents” — nothing random ever happens).

Words, being concepts, have enormous power. The modern saying “shit happens” has in fact been revolutionary. It means that some (perhaps most) nastiness is simply random, like stepping into dog doo-doo. No, that wasn’t predestined! No deity was involved in that or a billion other events. No cosmic consciousness. Yes a dog was involved, and dog is god spelled backwards, but . . . only in English. 

And once you have “shit happens” (which some, in honor of the Buddha, have called the First Noble Truth), atheism is around the corner. I think the Buddha’s deliberate and emphatic silence about the existence of deities speaks for itself. 

Yes, the loving nature of Jesus (if we don’t count the scary Jesus of Revelation, who is a judge and punisher) is probably the first great difference that comes to mind when we ponder the differences between Islam and Christianity. Yet to me the most important difference may stem from the verse: “Let us then make man in our own image.” The essential similarity between man and the Judeo-Christian god should be spoken of more often.

The problem is that this similarity easily lends itself to a reversal, i.e. if man and god are so similar, perhaps the real reason is that man created god in his own image — something we take for granted about the Greek gods, so obviously human except for immortality and greater powers. And if elephants had a god, would they not imagine him as a Great Elephant in the Sky?

But the great advantage of idea of man being in the image of god is that it increases human dignity. And this is a foundational verse, which can’t be erased with later attempts to present a more abstract, image-less deity.

Ending on beauty is both my pleasure and my special challenge. I see the sharing of beauty as my primary task. A blog often deals with unpleasant matters, but I never want to leave the reader in a depressed state of mind. Beauty is a great antidote to all the unavoidable unpleasantness. For me, it’s beauty, along with affection, that makes life worth living. 

Below: Homage to Escher, Bob Boldt

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