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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A look at Abrahamic Religions — 2

Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

Let's take a further look at the whole Old Testament (OT). I'll start with Genesis since that applies to Jews and Christians alike, with both claiming that it was dictated by their Gods. I have used the plural version (Gods) because they are not the same: YHWH (although pronounced 'Yahweh', the vowels are never written down) is the Jewish God; Jesus is the Christian God.

[Given the fact that Allah, the 'Muslim God', is also different from the other two mentioned above, I wonder how these religions are considered to be similar when their very basis is different. But that would lead us to other stories about Ibrahim/Abraham or Ahlé Kitaab - so let's forget about it here. Maybe you can ask some scholar for their views. Mohammad Sheikh's video about Ahlé Kitaab, for example, is totally different from what the majority of Muslims believe.]

As a starting book of the OT (and as part of the Pentateuch) it has several errors in it. While I accept that it has changed, anyone changing a religious work - unless s/he is evil - is more than likely to remove the 'bad' or 'inaccurate' parts, if any, and make the book even better. This certainly did not happen in this book. I can't believe that these changes were made by scholars or believers۔ Let me start with Chapters 1-5 of Genesis in this post.

Genesis 1

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

There was Light and Dark? Really? These are effects that take place as the Earth revolves around itself and continues to do so around the Sun. But this goes on until this happens:

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,
15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.

Well, the lesser light (the Moon) doesn't agree with God and comes out, fairly frequently, in the day time. This is apart from the fact that it's actual Light is its reflection of the Sun.

17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth,
18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.
And God saw that it was good.
19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Genesis 2
It took 6 days to create all this.

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

Rested? Does he get tired?
I mean, it's not physical labour for him, no.
Of course there are other things to Create, too.
So let's have a Creation Story. Right.

Genesis begins with two contradictory creation accounts.

In the first creation story,
humans are created after the other animals.

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. [Genesis 1:25-27]

In the second story,
humans were created before the other animals.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. [Genesis 2:18-19]

In the first creation story,
the first man and woman were created simultaneously.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. [Genesis 1:25-27]

In the second account,
the man was created first,
then the animals,
then the woman from the man's rib.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them.... And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. [Genesis 2:18-22]


There is a small problem, here, too. For Genesis 5.2 states that He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Adam” when they were created.

Rabbinic discussions about the two versions of Creation and 'the androgyne' can be found in Genesis Rabbah and Leviticus Rabbah, which are collections of midrashim (ancient writings attached to the Bible by Jews) about the books of Genesis and Leviticus. In Genesis Rabbah the rabbis wonder whether a verse from Psalms offers insight into the first version of Creation, perhaps indicating that ‘adam was actually a hermaphrodite with two faces':

“You have formed me before and behind’ (Psalms 139:5)… Rabbi Jeremiah b. Leazar said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first ‘adam, He created it with both male and female sexual organs, as it is written, ‘Male and female He created them, and He called their name ‘adam, (Genesis 5:2). Rabbi Samuel b. Nahmani said, “When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first ‘adam, He created him with two faces, then split him and made him two backs – a back for each side.” (Genesis Rabbah 8:1)



By the way, I am not even counting another story in which Adam has a wife before Eve. Her name was Lilith.

Here's Lilith for you. 

Though Lilith is not mentioned in the Torah/OT, this is how she is described in the Jewish tales:
According to the Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith was Adam’s first wife but the couple fought all the time. They didn’t see eye-to-eye on matters of sex because Adam always wanted to be on top while Lilith also wanted a turn in the dominant sexual position. When they could not agree, Lilith decided to leave Adam. She uttered God’s name and flew into the air, leaving Adam alone in the Garden of Eden. God sent three angels after her and commanded them to bring her back to her husband by force if she would not come willingly. But when the angels found her by the Red Sea they were unable to convince her to return and could not force her to obey them.  Eventually a strange deal is struck, wherein Lilith promised not to harm newborn children if they are protected by an amulet with the names of the three angels written on it —  
“The three angels caught up with her in the [Red] Sea…They seized her and told her: ‘If you agree to come with us, come, and if not, we shall drown you in the sea.’ She answered: ‘Darlings, I know myself that God created me only to afflict babies with fatal disease when they are eight days old; I shall have permission to harm them from their birth to the eighth day and no longer; when it is a male baby; but when it is a female baby, I shall have permission for twelve days.’ The angels would not leave her alone, until she swore by God’s name that wherever she would see them or their names in an amulet, she would not possess the baby [bearing it]. They then left her immediately. This is [the story of] Lilith who afflicts babies with disease.” 
(Alphabet of Ben Sira, from "Eve & Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender" pg. 204.)
Some tales tell us that Lilith changed her form into a Serpent and came to Eve and Adam to ask them to eat the fruit that God had said they shouldn't.


Just remember that He said to them that they could eat everything except fruit from that one tree. You may be surprised (as were they, perhaps) later.


More next week!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

And what a man he was …

(August 9, 1927 – January 24, 2016)


My friend, Roger Schank - many of you have heard him at Education Conference's in Pakistan - said about Minsky in John Brockman's Edge years ago.

Marvin Minsky is the smartest person I've ever known. He's absolutely full of ideas, and he hasn't gotten one step slower or one step dumber. One of the things about Marvin that's really fantastic is that he never got too old. He's wonderfully childlike. I think that's a major factor explaining why he's such a good thinker. There are aspects of him I'd like to pattern myself after. Because what happens to some scientists is that they get full of their power and importance, and they lose track of how to think brilliant thoughts. That's never happened to Marvin.


My interest in Marvin Minsky started with this amazing book:

The quote on the cover is from Isaac Asimov:
"270 brilliantly original essays … on how the mind works"


Marvin's writing was always easily understood in this collection,
(but I found him difficult in some later writings).

Here is an example from the book I've read twice.


This was soon followed by the
wonderful interactive Voyager CD of the book
(for the Macintosh). Sadly those CDs don't run any more.


It was 1997 and I attended Nicholas Negroponte's conference for a Young Generation that were going to be Citizens of A New World. Minsky was there, too, and I talked with him very briefly. He was leaving in the next few hours for a trip somewhere.

Later that night many of the participants had dinner together and I bought the Extended Edition of Perceptrons there. This was Marvin Minsky's book written with my hero Seymour Papert.

I had met Papert earlier (having attended two of his lectures, including one in Pakistan), and had gotten to know him well.

My young colleague, Farhat-Said Pervez, attended his lectures at MIT and I met him with her (and her husband, Anjum Pervez) that night again. I got him to autograph my copy of the book but, sadly, Minsky had left, so I didn't have his autograph.

After dinner we moved to a party dance floor at MIT and I met Gloria Minsky, Marvin Minsky's wife, wearing her fabulous red eyeglasses. I had a lot of fun talking to her. We danced, ate some Samosas during our break (they were cooked by the Indian students with one token Pakistani!), and chatted for quite a while. I said to her that I had missed getting Marvin's autograph for the book … and she said I should come over the next morning to his office and she'd meet me there. I said surely he won't be back tomorrow, and she said "No — but bring the book."

I arrived the next morning and she took the book and handed it to Marvin's Secretary, asking her that when Marvin gets back she should get this book autographed and posted to me. I gave them my address but kept wondering if I'd ever get that book back.

In 3 weeks I got the book by post. Wow!

We then sat in his office and had Coffee. She told me about her family. Her work. Her daughter's work at MIT. Then she asked about my life. I spoke to her about running away from Education. My life at sea in the Merchant Navy. And my recent Multimedia work. I mentioned to her at some point that my original family years ago was Jewish. She laughed and said, "You must have been a Minsky, originally." I asked her why did she think so … and she said when you are old you'll see how closely like Marvin your looks are. I just thought that was a crazy thing to say …


Now two of my friends from MIT tell me I look like him.
Here's Minsky at a Conference.


(It was an amazing experience to attend this Conference: Apart from spending time with Nicholas Negrponte, I also met Alan Kay and had a rather long conversation with him — and 18 years later I interviewed him at Beaconhouse School of Tomorrow Conference in Karachi last year. Another wonderful person I met, who is now a close friend of mine, was Shahidul Alam, the brilliant photographer, who is on the Board of National Geographic. Finally, I was also a partner at the student sessions with John Perry Barlow, an essayist, a writer, a human rights activist, and founder of EFF, who was the Lyricist for the Grateful Dead!)

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Friday, January 22, 2016

A look at Abrahamic Religions — 1

I was brought up in a Sunni Muslim household, but my grandfather's second marriage (after my grandmother died) was to a (Twelver) Shia lady, so I had enough on my plate to see both sides of the view. My father, who was once a strong Atheist up to his late 40s, slowly became a very strong believer, later. However, he was an avid reader and allowed me to read all sorts of books, which included religious works as well as Freethinking authors.

At school I was very interested in the Bible … which was taught to us by a Catholic Priest, as we could not have a copy of the Bible. Why? Because it was among the books that were not allowed for people to have. Only Priests were allowed to have them, because there were things in it that "the people would have misunderstood the book", as my Vice Principal, Father Todd, said to me. Actually, in the 1229AD Council of Toulouse one of the items was this:
Canon 14. We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; unless anyone from motive of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.
The Church forbade Catholics from reading the Holy Bible by placing it on the index of Forbidden Books. The Bibles placed on the Index of Forbidden Books were also Protestant Bibles that lacked 7 books and/or were badly translated versions of the Bible. Soon after Pope John XXIII announced Vatican II in 1962, the Bible became something that Catholics could buy (but, preferably, not read without a Priest being present, as I was told by a Catholic friend).


Later on, after I went to sea in the Merchant Navy, I decided to read most religious books in a Chronological Order (as far as one could determine the dates). These and the works of Toynbee and Durant were remarkably good. As were Bertrand Russell's works. My time at Sea was absolutely amazing!

So here I am, trying to write down a few things that many people, including close family and  friends,  are unaware of or seem to misunderstand because of the various peculiar stories. I will also quote some parts from the Jewish and Christian Holy Books.

At later blogs I will also choose some of our own stories from the Qur'an … and some myths that have arisen within the Muslim subsects.

The Holy Qur'an

The majority of Muslims believe that there are Four Books that Allah sent:
  1. Züboor: Hazrat Daüd/David's book — a small part of which is in the Old Testament (OT). 
  2. Taoraét (Torah): the first 5 books of the OT, also known as the Pentateuch. The word Taoraét means 'Laws' — Generally accepted as the word Allah gave to Hazrat Müsa/Moses.
  3. Injeel: Which refers to the New Testament (NT). The word Injeel means 'Glad Tidings' (Evangelism comes from this) — Generally accepted as the word that Allah gave to Hazrat Isa/Jesus.
  4. The Holy Qur'an.
A smaller sect among Muslims believes that since this belief part is written in the Qur'an, there is no reason that it should name itself, since 'we know' that Qur'an is the word of Allah. The Four Books, according to them, are the ones that Qur'an mentions: Three first books mentioned above the Qur'an in my earlier para — and one that came before all of them — The Book/Scripture of Hazrat Ibrahim/Abraham, which is no longer available to us.

Quranic Verse Surah 87 Aayaas 17-19
But the Hereafter is better and more enduring.
And this is in the Books of the earliest (Revelation),
The Books of Abraham and Moses.

Quranic Verse Surah 53 Ayaa 37
And of Scripture of Abraham who fulfilled all that Allah ordered him.


The OT has many more books apart from the Pentateuch, of course. OT contains 39 (Protestant) or 46 (Catholic) or more (Orthodox and other) books, divided, very broadly, into the Pentateuch (Torah), the historical books, the "wisdom" books and the prophets.

One story, given further rise by Voltaire, was that the number of books in the Bible were decided in the Nicene Council in 325AD. Part of the idea was that many books were placed on top of each other and the ones that fell were discarded. This is untrue, though people still use this story without knowing the facts. It actually took many centuries when all this happened.

The Nicene Council, that gave rise to the Nicene Creed, was an ecumenical meeting that decided many things, of which the most important were these:

1. Jesus Christ is described as "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God", proclaiming his Divinity. (# This means that he is not just God, but also the Son of God.)
(Note: The Council of Constantinople (now Istanbul) was convened by Emperor Theodosius in 381AD. It further affirmed the divinity of the Holy Spirit, which up to that point had never been clearly stated anywhere in the Scripture.)
2. The view that 'there was once that when he was not' was rejected to maintain the co-eternity of the Son with the Father.

3. Independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the Council.

There were many other orders, among which was a prohibition of Usury. This was different from Interest according to some documents. A loan may be considered usurious because of excessive or abusive interest rates. There may be other factors, too. In Pakistan and other Muslim countries Usury is taken to mean InterestUsury is prohibited in many Christian countries but many of them look at it differently from Interest.

Here's are two pieces from Wikipedia that show that it was permissible in lots of areas. 
Certain negative historical renditions of usury carry with them social connotations of perceived "unjust" or "discriminatory" lending practices. The historian Paul Johnson, comments:

Most early religious systems in the ancient Near East, and the secular codes arising from them, did not forbid usury. These societies regarded inanimate matter as alive, like plants, animals and people, and capable of reproducing itself. Hence if you lent 'food money', or monetary tokens of any kind, it was legitimate to charge interest. Food money in the shape of olives, dates, seeds or animals was lent out as early as c. 5000 BC, if not earlier. ...Among the MesopotamiansHittitesPhoenicians and Egyptians, interest was legal and often fixed by the state. But the Hebrew took a different view of the matter.
Jewish Laws allowed it with foreigners and not other Hebrews: 
The Hebrew Bible regulates interest taking. Interest can be charged to strangers but not between Hebrew.
Deuteronomy 23:19 Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother: interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of any thing that is lent upon interest.
Deuteronomy 23:20 Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto, in the land whither thou goest in to possess it.

The Holy Bible has many versions that various sects of Christians follow, but let me stick to the one that I know well — The King James Version — when I quote from it. I will, of course, include the Pentateuch in it, so that my Jewish friends are included.


The books of OT obviously do not have Jesus in them and the Jews do not recognise him as a Prophet or God Incarnate. The OT & the NT has nothing about Islam's Prophet, so the Jews and the Christians do not accept him as a Prophet, either. The Qur'an, however, recognises many Prophets from the OT and accepts Jesus as a Prophet. The Muslims, however, do say that the OT/NT have been altered heavily and are not in their original form.

The current understanding by scholars is that OT was written over a long time — the rough dates are given here. This, of course, does not make OT the Word of God. However the Pentateuch (The books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) is supposed to be the Word of God according to Jews/Christians. It was written, according to researchers, in 1445BC to 1405BC, by Hazrat Musa/Moses. 

I find this rather odd, since God could not have ordered Moses to write the last lines of Deuteronomy.

Chapter 34
The Death of Moses
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah,across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oathto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moabthirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.
Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses. 
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
An Important Note

Most Muslims sadly believe that, in Christianity, Jesus is the Son of God. Actually they are unaware of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity ("threefold"), which defines God as three consubstantial persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; that is "one God in three persons". 

Here is a popular figure from one of their school books.

Some of the most popular hymns talk of Hail Mary, Mother of God.


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Saturday, January 09, 2016

Lahore to vaaqai Lahore haé

The most important thing for me was Nirala Sweets in Lahore, after they took there Karachi shops away. I loved their Sugar Free Barfis, their Sugar Free Laddoos, and their Sugar Free Gulab Jamuns. The Gulab Jamuns were so good that even my non-Diabetic friends loved them much more than the regular types.

A few months ago I went to Lahore and went off to purchase the stuff. No shops. Asked a few friends. They said they've been closed for a while.

I wrote my regrets on Facebook and Hareem Sumbul replied that they had been closed, like many others, and will open in a while. It was just a Kitchen problem that they had to solve according to Ayesha Mumtaz of the Punjab Food Authority.

This time I went in, hoping, and my Facebook tells the story.

I rang up Chashni and they said they have the three Sugar Free things, too. So off I went on my way to the airport to collect them … and found they were great. So that's a place where you all should go when you need Sugar Free sweets.

(They also have other sweets which were good, too. I tried quite a few. Yes, yes … I have Diabetes. But I am 75, so I can't really be bothered by a few sweets once in a while. I mean how fast will Death approach me if I occasionally have them, yaar. At this age many of my friends are dead, even without Diabetes. Also, I am only taking things away and providing very little to the Society at this age. So its OK to occasionally beat the system before it beats me.)

Right. So, off I went to the airport, walked right in to the Passenger Lounge, turned towards the toilet — and Lo. And Behold. This is what I see there:

(Sorry. I had to write that on their pic.)

I was surprised. No one among my friends who travel often to Karachi had told me that Nirala does exist at the airport. So I walked up to the shop and the guy said they had no Sugar Free stuff any more. Not in their airport shop, anyway. Airport shop?

"What? You have other shops in town? Where?" 
"Sir, they have changed their name, now. Its called Chashni."
"Oh, so the Chashni I went to is really Nirala. Great."
"They don't say that, sir, because Nirala has not paid Taxes. So they've changed their name."
"Really! Then why is this one not called Chashni?"
"Sir, when they send us the money we'll change it, too."

Things work if you have the money. Otherwise they don't. But who cares?

What's the truth, then? I think it is a family business, like Farhat Shereen said. And the members have fought. One group will now be called Nirala and the breakaway group will be Chashni. (And the guy at the airport shop should not have told me, whether its true or not, about the tax that was not paid.)

Bye, Lahore.

The plane that was to go at 6pm, didn't. I changed my airline and got another flight at 10pm. Went out for Coffee and a (sugared) snack. Came back and boarded. Slept all the way through, but just after I tried to stand up and put on the airplane's seat belt. They are right. You can only sit down and put them on.

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