The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, June 05, 2016

They are far from you

Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam, 11-2 talks Islamic social hierarchy, and notes some subtle shades of nuance. In both the West and the East, a "high" social rank was more honoured than a "low" one. In the West moreover the high / low contrast can apply also to politics and this may have been the case for the Iranians as well. The Arabs have a "headship" too, but there it is more organic - they are just as likely to cite the sadr, the chest. Or, in the case of Baghdad, the navel (p. 23).

As every sociologist knows, or used to know before the New Left, political status differs from subjective rank; and the Arabs knew it too. They preferred to express status as near / far (cf., the Spanish Umayyad caliphate). "Wasit" denoted the middlemen who controlled access to "near". Unity was "jamâ'a", a gathering-close; the "khârijites" seceded.

This is expressed in architecture, and flowed back into metaphor again: the rulers liked to expose la porte sublime or the Splendid Threshold to the commons, rather than the Throne (pp. 12, 20). In fact the rulers ended up reserving the Throne for God; they planned cities as circles around the palace-mosque complex, and the caliph would hold court from a sofa. I should add that upon the minbar, which has a throne on top, the preacher speaks from the stair. "The seat (majlis) of a teacher", say, might just be a cushion on the floor. And so on and on: in Islam "nearness is what counts" (p. 23), not elevation.

We do sometimes see metaphors of exaltation in the Qur'an. But here, ta'ala is reserved for Allâh al-A'lâ (or maybe for 'Alî). Sura 27 rebukes the nobles of Sheba precisely for daring to ta'lû against God's caliph Solomon. One could also mention Haman's tower in this context.

(So in Aladdin when Ja'far having made himself sultan moved the palace to a clifftop, this move was a blasphemy...)

To me this looks like a Gospel idiom, as Peter's statement be it far from thee. I don't think this was even good Greek, so I have brought the Peshitta here.

UPDATE 3/15/2017: from Persia.

posted by Zimri on 10:12 | link | 0 comments

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