Report on Religion & Culture Series, 2 of 8

J.D. Jordan, Classic Islamic Poetry: Faith, Love, Wine & Women?

On Tuesday, February 25th, 2009, J.D. Jordan presented the second installment of Gate City II's Religion and Culture Series with Classic Islamic Poetry. JD recently completed a graduate degree in US - Middle Eastern history. His program looked at the Classical Period of Islamic Poetry from Mohammad to the Mongols, 7th - 13th centuries. The purpose of his presentation was to demystify an often adversarial culture through verse. In honor of the occasion, the brethren of Gate City II grilled Shish Kabob to serve to our guests. New brothers, Zeithlin Waters and Victor Marshall as well as new affiliate brother Minh Vin, grilled the meat and vegetables and prepared the food aided by Scott Handler, not yet a Freemason. In preparation for the event, the brethren of GCII, hung posters, sent out evites, called friends and posted the presentation on a number of blogs.

J.D. started his presentation by giving us a background of the differences in the Persian and Arabic cultures. He also explained that Arab culture held poets in the highest esteem. Many of the other forms of art, such as music, were held with much less regard. Moreover, musicians were mostly slaves whose task was to set the written word to music. Poetry was so highly prized that cults formed around many poets and became a popular past time among the ruling class (including Sultans and Caliphs).

Poetry was spread by the poet or the employment of a rawis - professional performers. As in the west, the poet depended on patronage and was often times obligated to sing the praises of his tribe, ruler, or religion. They were the first propagandists and advertisers. J.D. read a poem written by an eleventh century vendor with an over stock of black veils. The vendor fashioned a poem extolling the virtues of wearing a black veil. The poem was repeated enough times in the market place. The vendor sold his surplus.

He introduced us to Sufi Poetry and the poet Rumi. A Sufi is one who does not separate himself from others by opinion or dogma; and who realizes the heart as the Shrine of God. Sufism is a mystical form of Islam much like kabalists are to a mystical form of Judaism. Rumi is known to have said, "I go into the Muslim Mosque and the Jewish Synagogue and the Christian church and I see one altar." He proceeded to enlighten us with a host of poems unexpectedly arising from what many had heretofore considered a fairly rigid culture without much room for error or disobedience.

Notable quote, Al-Mutanabbi: "A mindless idiot needs polite learning as a headless donkey needs halter."

Kamaluddin Isma'il Isfahani, 12th century Persian Social Commentary:

"Though my master speaks ill of me
I shall not mar my face with pain.
I shall speak nothing but good of him
so that we may both be seen as liars."

Ubayid -I Zakani, Religious Criticism, 14th century Persian / Arab:

Lord, of your grace all that I hope is this-
keep the realm of my pleasure prosperous
avert me from the calamity of chastity
and keep me from the doom of repentance

Rudagi, the first great classical poet of Iran, 10th century:

I do not dye my hair black
so as to be young again and sin again
but because people dye their clothes black in mourning
so, I have died my hair black, mourning my old age

Abu Nuwas, on Love:

I asked her for a kiss and obtained it
after refusal, and much effort.
By God, I said, my tormentress, be generous,
give me another and content me,
She smiled and cited a proverb,
known to the Persians, and true:
Never give anything to a child
who petulantly asks for another

Al - Walid II (8th century Caliph):

She rose to met me with a kiss and embraced me
her limbs full, her mouth fragrant like musk.
"Come in, no one will know,
I am your ransom against suffering."
And so we lay that night, sleepless on our beds,
in the heat of passion she clasped me and I clasped her,
until the two threads apeared and I said to her,
"It is time to part," and grief almost overcame her.
Then I left her and no one knew of us.
May God reward her for her good deed.

J.D. also spoke of the relevance of Christ in Islam. Jesus is regarded as immaculately conceived of God and Mary. He is the second or third highest regarded entity to Muslims (depending on sect). All religions, sects and fraternities have their fair share of hypocrites and critics, Islam is no exception...

Omar Khayyam, a 12th century Persian, wrote the following:

And that inverted bowl we call the sky,
Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to it for help - for it
rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

Allah, perchance, the secret word might spell;
If Allah be, He keeps His secrets well;
What He hath hidden, who shall hope to find?
Shall God His secrets to a Maggot tell?

The Koran! well, come put me to the test -
Lovely old book in hideous error drest-
Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

And do you think that unto such as you,
A maggot - minded starved fanatic crew,
God saved the secret, and denied it to me?-
Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.

With each seperate piece, J.D. weaved in and out of the history surrounding the poem, the circumstances of the poet, and the social / religious relevance of his writing. Bringing an 800 - 1300 year old poem to life is not an easy task, but that's exactly what J.D. Jordan delivered to the brethren of Gate City II, their friends and families and everyone else that attended.

So...turn off the television. Quit reading this blog. Pick up an intriguing book of, dare I say it, Classic Islamic Poetry? You will be delighted!

Thank you J.D.!

Gate City II is a Regular Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons working under the jurisdiction of The Grand Lodge of Georgia. Our regular meetings are the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays January – May, September – November, the 2nd Tuesday in June, August and December and the 4th Tuesday in July. We meet at the Atlanta Masonic Center (formerly The Atlanta Masonic Temple) 1690 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30309
Norman P.