Monday, September 24, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Beautiful Names of God

Sacred mysteries

God will be invoked in Arabic in Westminster Cathedral on June 19, with the first performance of Sir John Tavener's The Beautiful Names. Sir John's work, commissioned by the Prince of Wales, lasts for 70 minutes and will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the choir of the cathedral.

Some will think it odd to call God by the name Allah in a Christian church. But Allah is simply the Arabic for God, just as God is Deus in Latin, Bog in Russian.

The word Allah refers to the same God that Jews and Christians worship. There is no doubt of that. He is the God of Abraham and Isaac; the one living God. He is the God that Jesus worshipped and whom he invoked, in Aramaic, as he died on the cross, calling on him by the name Eloi.

In a way, the word used to refer to God is arbitrary. It functions as a common noun, in the same way as tree or mountain. The difference is that there may be many trees or mountains, but, by his nature, there can only be one God.

At the same time, God is not just another item in the universe. He existed before he made the universe and he is not identified with any created thing or by the totality of created things. Indeed, it is impossible for us creatures to conceive of his nature. But we attribute perfections to him in an attempt to say something about him. Believers use these attributes to praise him in adoration.

Christians call God the Almighty. So do Muslims; they call him al-Jabbar. This has connotations of being irresistible. Christians call God the Holy One. So do Muslims: al-Quddus (which perhaps has connotations of purity and separateness; but then so does holy in the Bible). They call him al-Khaliq, the Creator, as Christians do.

All the 99 traditional names, or attributes, of God used by Muslims are concepts familiar to Christians when they contemplate God. The Islamic names of God are to be found in the Koran and, for that reason, their connotations are different from those from the Bible and Christian tradition.

In commenting on how different names seem to signify contrary aspects in God, the 13th-century Sufi writer Jalal al-Din Rumi explained: "Just as a person is, in relation to you, a father and, in relation to someone else, either a son or a brother, so the names of God have their relations.

He is, from the viewpoint of the infidel, the Conqueror; from our viewpoint, the Merciful."

It is a pious practice in Islam to recite the names of God. A hadith, or saying handed down from the time of Mohammed, says: "He who enumerates them would get into Paradise."

The names are recited in turn, or, in another practice, one name is recited 33 times or 99 times, as a way of concentrating on this attribute. People use strings of beads to keep count of the names they recite. Foolish Westerners often think they are "worry beads".

For a Christian, the alien aspect of the devotion to the Beautiful Names is the natural lack of any reference to Jesus, through whom Christian prayer is normally made. Yet Christians do contemplate the perfections of God in their prayer, when they want to.

I do not expect John Tavener's work to please many Muslims. Muslims drop in to Westminster Cathedral, but rarely for services. It would be surprising if they did.

The other thing is that Sir John Tavener has, in recent years, taken up the ideas of René Guéon and Frithjof Schuon. Both thinkers argued that there is a perennial philosophy behind the major religions in the esoteric understanding of their teachings. Guéon, as far as I understand it, made esoteric traditions more compatible with the truthfulness of Christian doctrine.

But such esoteric universalism can be deeply suspect to many Muslims, not to mention quite a few Christians.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Welcome to 1001 Names

Welcome to 1001 names. I am sure that you will see that there has been some new change to the opening page of my weblog. Its a welcome change really as I am currently upgrading my blog and also incorporating change to the site. It has been more than a few years since I started blogging. 10001 names existence came into Cyberspace when I decided that I would start my blog from scratch. Thus the 1001 name - meaning 'Nothing at All'

Read and Enjoy

So, to all readers, family members, friends and cybertrotters who happen to drop by this webpage, do take time to read some of my adventures and misadventures. THe contents are at times 'friendly' and will not contain critical elements that will brush the feathers of the higher ups in power or authority. Its just the story of the life of an ordinary cybersurfer living in an extraordinary real world - and this blog frames up some of the experience and memories for some time to come.