The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A prison called Dunya

In Sahih Muslim's book of Zuhd (2956), The world is a prison-house for a believer and Paradise for a non-believer. This is also noted in al-Masudi's Muruj, and in Ibn Abi 'Asim; after tracking that last source, I quit looking. Opinions differ as to which Islamic notable first mooted it, as is typical of the Hadith. The al-'Alâ < his father < Abû Hurayra chain seems most popular.

The saying is surely of gnostic origin, most likely had from the Manichees.

Noted student of Islam 'Abd al-'Aziz has recently fleshed-out this parable:

Imagine that you are taken by force and placed in a prison. Once in the prison you realize that the living arrangements in this prison really aren’t that bad. There is a sun room, a TV to watch, computer to use, phone, different kinds of food, and even a section for exercise. After spending a couple weeks in the prison you get used to it and develop a routine. You still aren’t sure why you are in prison, or how long you will be there, but you are comfortable in your life. At this time one of the guards enters with a large folder that he hands you. You open the folder and read its instructions, stating that you will be spending the next couple years in this prison, and at the end of this term you will be given a test at a random time. It could be in 2 years or it could be in 4. The instructions state that passing this exam will result in you being released to the city of your choice and your living expenses will be paid as well as an allowance. Failing will lead to your transfer to another prison cell, one that has no windows or accessories except a hole in the ground for you to relieve yourself, and your meals will be the same oats and water day after day until you die.

A study guide for the test is included in the folder, and you are left alone. Put yourself in this position. What would you do?

I would imagine that any sane person would devote their time to mastering the information on the study guide and stay patient with their studies, only giving time for the other things around to keep themselves focused on passing the exam. They would do this because they know and have been told that they will be rewarded with pleasures that they have never seen.

Anyone who chooses to indulge in the activities around them and spend part or none of their time studying would surely live the rest of their life in remorse.

As you see, the same argument is had in Gnosticism. (And in Johannine forms of Christianity, for that matter.) God is a jailer, and he has already stuck you into a prison. You don't get to question the sentence. You do get the promise of better quarters. If you trust the jailer's promises, that is. Make sure you get a good look at the guard's ID.

Personally, I don't trust those promises. (I never have.) I would treat the jailer's "study guide" as a precious window on the jailer's personal psychology. I would use it to see what arbitrary cruelties I could next expect. I might even wonder if there was a weakness I could exploit.

I can somewhat understand how a prisoner so unjustly sentenced could identify with his oppressor; Stockholm ain't just a city in Sweden. But all I can feel for such a weakling is contempt. As for those who spread "study guides", well, I just don't want them around me.

posted by Zimri on 18:12 | link | 0 comments

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