The Lost Sapling

Several years ago, I saw a beautiful Umbrella Magnolia tree, and purchased a two-foot sapling to plant in my yard. The spot that I chose had weed saplings all about, but I neglected to mark mine. In the spring I went looking for it and found access to the area awkward. Still I walked in and searched for some revealing leaf. It was too early.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, I decided to give up. Glancing about at the mostly overgrown area, I headed back towards where I had entered. There was a gap and I started through it, halting inches from a large, magnificent spider web. I saw no other way out but could not imagine the web having been spun so quickly. A recollection of Muhammad taking refuge in a cavern overtook me, as did wonderment of how mythical had really been that spider closing off and quickly securing his hiding place with just such a web?

At the foot of the leftward of the pair of six-footers straddled by the web was a leafless sapling similar to the one I had sought. Stepping awkwardly around and through the brush, I went back to my garage and returned with a blue ribbon which I tied about it; then somehow I forgot it all. A year or two later, an enormous oak fell and rolled by its branches off the roof of my home, felling other trees, and filling our yard with itself.

On the day which I happened to be walking through the area, another year had passed and it was by then stripped of any tall growth. There at my feet was the sapling with its identifying ribbon and now also its foliage; it had been only a buckthorn, an ordinary weed tree. Despite this fall from the magical into the commonplace, a part of me doesn’t feel that I came up short. There could only have been a dozen overgrown feet across which I cut into that know-not-where. I took what seemed to be the sole gap and cannot imagine it having been other than the sizable one that  minutes later would be spanned by the web.

When I first heard the phrase, “all men are created equal,” I felt inside the splendor of its sentiment, but it took years to realize that a simple removal of the word created would only distort its original meaning: that Thomas Jefferson had written it just so, and as both sentiment and fact. Without dismissing differences in interpersonal practice, be assured that the followers of Islam start out no more complicated than do those of other faiths and other doubts, no more than did I, an infidel. What follows, my translation from this, the simple, into the secular, may not have inspired many colonialists but it does me: “Considering the qualities that any two persons, whatever their generation or community, have in common at birth; such qualities are more important than those which on that occasion distinguished them.” This parity may not outlast our emergent handling of life’s challenges; but, any outward decree or inward conviction of superiority does not tilt that balance in its expected way.

Spider web

The stuff of dreams and nightmares

My first take of the early tale left me certain that a web, covering the darkened recess where Muhammad hid, had diverted those in pursuit of him coincident with an inner doubt that it had ever been spun at all. From this encounter, I realize that such is not so impossible, and can even wonder if centuries of spinners have themselves secluded Muhammad —but from what.

Imitating someone, while oblivious to the context in which their actions were taken, is far from flattering, and may be worse than doing nothing at all. It really depends on whether such an action would thrive or shrivel absent such circumstance. Early Islāmic concerns for the welfare of women had sloughed off female infanticide, had introduced a woman’s right to property and inheritance; but had carried along something from an older tradition which demeaned women and may even have been imposed upon a reluctant Muhammad by those clinging to tribal codes and traditions.

Enduring values, as well as those specific to the time, became fixed for centuries by the written word and by transcriptions which, although diligent, were oblivious to changes occurring off page. Ancient guidance had been passed along in spoken words and divine whispers. Now written, such guidance could no longer adapt to the drift of circumstance; nonetheless, its words had become both instrument and evidence of a meaning’s immutability.

That community’s original needs and a prophet’s guidance, absent a forgotten context, settled on some Qu’ranic pages as favors, much as had dust on the exposed edges. What needed to be done was to hold Sharian Law up next to both the Prophet’s life and his community’s circumstance; to glimpse that code at its writing and, hence, as it had been written. Notice with me the following:

Holy War

English: SeaWiFS collected this view of the Ar...

Arabian Peninsula

In 1492 the Plains Indian tribes of North America were vulnerable to each other, much as had been the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula in 610 a.d. After centuries of bloodshed, the idea arose that the Peninsula and later that the Plains belonged to a sea of humanity whose people might best be described in English as human beings.

Notice in this satellite photo how much easier would be the defense of a unified Peninsula than a bickering one. Empty horizons, beyond which an invading force might loom, would be replaced by coasts and deserts whose defense would have been to the tribes of 610 a.d. as welcome as mountain passes were to be for the Swiss, and oceans for Americans. Muhammad understood and consummated that vision, putting an end to the inter-tribal bloodshed with a bloodshed that unified those tribes. Then he died leaving a blend of his intentions with tribal accords for the centuries to pick at.

Was that unifying violence meant by him to become a way of life which would extend beyond the Peninsula? Or did Muhammad direct this jihad toward getting the people of the peninsula to recognize that they were all human beings, a term later to become attached to his way of life, still later in the reference, Muslim, and finally by a circuitous tenet to the insistence that at birth, Muslims all?

Six hundred ten a.d. had lacked those, now common, supportive connections by which Muhammad may more broadly have communicated his unusual vision to tribal members. But what could this unspoken sentiment have possibly meant to those who had never reached out to others of pre-Islamic Arabia as human beings, but a call for violence perpetuated: a worthless end, a worthless means.

Pedophilia

In 600 a.d. the tribes of the Arabian peninsula practiced the postpartum birth control, infanticide. A woman’s relative physical weakness had put female infants at a disadvantage among those who feared invasion, as well as among those who had no grasp of strength beyond the physical.

Muhammad set a course for early followers that would become Islam. Among those who listened was Aisha’s father, and what he heard was that his newborn should be allowed to live. In that era, the edge upon which families lived was less tolerant of error, and Aisha’s very survival also required her early betrothal. Clearly the custom of such arrangements predated Aisha, and by their very nature included children of her youth. Upon discovering her family to be apostates from the old religion, he who by such a brokering of marriage was her betrothed, broke off the engagement. Muhammad had, in effect, saved her life only to set her up for a horrible end: starvation. Her father had no difficulty in making that point to him, and he agreed to fill the void which had actually come with his vision.

Who is this man emergent in all these details? Were his efforts to find an alternate groom simply unrecorded, or not in the scope of the demanding life of religion founding? Did his biographers exaggerate her youth, presuming no downside to applying a youthful makeup that would present their prophet as transcending time? Fifteen hundred years insures that any guess at Aisha’s fate, without her marriage to Muhammad, will never be more than just that. However, no honor would have survived her being taken as an elixir of youth.

Rape

Parents can with care and even effectiveness arrange a marriage for a son or daughter; but at some level of cajoling and coercing, they become for me indistinguishable from those trafficking in sexual or labor peonage.

Also difficult to comprehend is a divorce law which requires of a couple that neither of them disclose in court information which may be detrimental to the other. Gagged, she must seek divorce in court, while his mere word is his court. Wonder with me, do such husbands really believe that Sharian largess undoes her subsequent rape and peonage in the eyes of one who was himself so very different.

Sharian court will consider cases of rape in the common sense, and if guilt is proven mete out severe punishment. When the alleged victim is a woman, the requirement of proof is the witness of four, upright, male (or eight female) Muslims. Insistent on being taken seriously, Islamic jurisprudence paradoxically awaits the arrival in court of four men, so upright that they would bear witness to both the rape and their own failure or unwillingness to prevent it, but then—as would be expected—the four rarely show up.

On occasions of actual punishment, I imagine that the accused had earlier offended the wrong four persons. Sharia goes further, often noticing a convenient looseness on the part of the rape victim, and unleashing an unspeakable fury upon her.

Stoning

When a Sharian court orders death by stoning, as for sexual looseness (of a man or woman), the public is allowed to actually throw the stones or to do so vicariously as witnesses. For a moment their rage gives them convenient control over their own gateway. The stones are chosen large enough to inflict pain but not so large as to precipitate an instant pain-ending death.

A larger stone would be merciful but would also startle the throwers too quickly from this morality play which sets them in control of their gateway. The condemned, by their otherness, brings the crowd relief from disquieting death, only to disappear–their passion amoebically absorbed–into a shadow casting itself as justice.

The crowd walks away relieved so; for they had tested the waters of their own mortality with this other toe, not noticing that they themselves were dangling before the condemned and now before us. What had Muhammad seen in earlier faces? For coldness and hardness, thrown stones are no match for the throwers themselves.

Making Hate

In the next five years, Gaza and the West Bank will grow in population by as many Palestinians as had originally been delayed and in the end, denied return from exile. Does this birthrate ease the fear of being swallowed up by a larger neighbor or is it a bizarre counter greed to, yet not so very different from, Israeli expansion cloaked behind the pax muralis? Some Palestinians openly see their children as instruments of revenge, and ergo, as having been conceived in hate. Whatever the case, they seem oblivious to how their own personal portions of land have shrunk with this expanding population.  After all, they are one with their neighbors and will vicariously enjoy a neighboring lot much as their own has long been enjoyed by Palestinians of the outer limbo.

Tobacco

Muhammad never smoked then-unknown tobacco. Did he never know such relaxation, or had their been nothing to compare? Did . . . never put such a talisman to his lips, or was he his own talisman? Islam would wait nine centuries for its first encounter, and an Ottoman physician soon recognized in examinations of the dead how great was the price that had been paid.

Once enlightened, those interpreting Sharian Law would not turn away from this; instead they introduced a prohibiting fique. Since then, many have islamed to a hundred others, yet ignore this one: the one that had looked around and beheld what it had beheld. How many have taken their survival through uncountable exhales as evidence of a butt’s talismanic power, bringing it once more to their lips to be absolutely certain . . . to be certain . . . be certain?

Homosexuality

Coercion of men not inclined towards heterosexuality is a similar relic of a time when numbers kept tribes from being overrun. Some Muslim men are now torturing to death homosexuals in the name of Allah. The method, anal occlusion, reeks of helping Muslims to resist anal intercourse; but, being both painful and lethal, it also reeks of that terrorist analgesic: the infliction of distracting misery upon others. Are they conditioning others to Sharia’s will or doing something less sinister, yet sadder.

Surely in Islamic countries young boys are molested but with far less recourse; after all, the Qu’ran considers diverted semen as defiled and potentially defiling. Sharia insists that, upon discovery, both parties be executed. Is it possible that these brutes had been molested into a hellish flight from Sharia only to end in an explosive assimilation?

Curtain Garments

Any Muslim girl who either refuses to cover herself while in public with a curtain garment (hijab, burqa etc.) or to defer to her parent’s choice in marriage and other matters interferes with the Sharian ideal. By some, who anticipate benefit from this custom or cannot bear a reminder of what it had once taken from them, the refusal is elevated to a capital offense, and her family made the focus of bitterness that would monger shame into murder. The catch word “honor,” cloaked in authentic honor, is dangled before the ear of a father or brother, closing eyes to a lifetime of joy that had flown from this daughter, this sister. We ourselves (including Muslims) must not be so confused as to allow an ambiguous Arabic word (تكريم) to be translated solely into honor without considering to ego.

A Muslim woman wearing hijab

Hijab: Failing terribly here at concealing beauty.

Who benefits or perceives themselves to have in the public wearing of a curtain garment? It turns the wearer’s appearance into a matter private to her and her family while publicly leveling the field for her and other women in finding a life companion. The private matter could be resolved by a private choice influenced by Sharia’s call for her to be concerned about her modesty or simply to honor her parents. Although lost to us in translation the classical Arabic terms for this modesty and honoring seem to include a meaning that could not be lost to her: that she would be held responsible for any feelings, whether sexual or resentful, aroused by her breach or perceived breach of either request. Written Sharia would not apply the brutality of rape or murder to these infractions but, unable to bear the audacity of her hope, silent Sharia would and does.

These curtain garments not only deny a girl or woman participation in many sports, but from birth she is kept from realizing what had been lost to her along with those sports: that joyful but different way of experiencing others and her own body. Similarly women, of really any degree of physical or emotional beauty, may prefer a curtain’s leveled field of attention. Again that could be left as a personal choice, but there is another curtain that conceals, not her attractive hair, but her striking judgment.

At the polls, in the courts, and during family discussions this curtain is drawn half way which in the last case may as well be all the way. Yet, with wisdom comes a responsibility before which some women shrink. They take pride in their willingness to defer to men and to live behind a muffling curtain which, when universally drawn halfway, promises to spare them any loss of parity with women of more striking judgment: what a waste.

Now look at those who benefit or perceive themselves as having so from arranged marriages and their facilitator, again the curtain garment. Here, since women are restricted, all parental references are to a father (one vote) influenced as much as possible by his wife (half an opinion). When parents of sound judgment care for their child’s well-being, they may pretend not to know the difference between being honored and being feared, but they do.

For the man interested in physical beauty who may one day offer security to a girl and her family, the curtain distracts the competition until his attainment of the marriage contract and then, of course, afterward. Parents, having an interest in her (or their own) financial needs, may also want that curtain worn. I doubt that a mother who, had found happiness in her own arranged marriage or was counting on the garment to keep one child caring for her into old age, would cajole intensely, let alone go beyond  that to the point of having her child murdered. However, that doubt wouldn’t apply to someone who sees him or herself as victim to this practice and cannot endure that sacrifice’s revelation as having been so arbitrary.

Worldwide there are such victims in denial who willingly perpetuate the very victimization; they seduce others into binge drinking, smoking cigarettes and the taking of illicit drugs: that is, into being to them a security blanket, a horcrux.

Ironically, since Islam’s early days Sharia (as civil law) has shown women a respect that permits them to inherit equally with their brothers (albeit losing control over this in marriage). People are unfathomable, and so too are their private dreams, such as when a brother’s dream confuses a prophet with a profit. Sharian courts could not possibly be required to fathom a brother’s thoughts, but again their tacit acceptance of fratricide with its increased inheritance does display a drift from at least the original intent in this equality.

Curtain garments conceal from men what is potentially arousing: the hair always; but the neck and even more wherever Sharian theocracies rule. Of course, a woman’s body marked or unmarked by abuse also makes no public appearance from behind this curtain.

Epilogue

This brings us full circle to the sapling which I never did find, and to my wondering if anyone would have been more successful. Centuries nor even decades from now really belong to me; but I attest to the joy that awaits those who, coming upon the grown tree, recognize its worth, whether or not, they know its name.

2 responses to “The Lost Sapling

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