Tag Archives: spirits

Theological Musings part 1 – Pre-apostasy…

Mostly inspired by my irtidad (apostasy from Islam), but also from my constant reflections on the divine even when I was a Muslim.

As a Muslim I never believed in a gendered god. From what I’d understood Islam didn’t either. The only reason Allah is known as “He” is because Arabic has no neuter pronouns, everything is a he or a she. To this day I find that stupid, in all languages that use gendered pronouns for inanimate objects, not just Arabic. Moon = male, sun = female, etc. Meanwhile “It” sounded generic and disrespectful, like how you’d describe a rock or a dog.

An anthropomorphic god was wrong too, and Islam makes it very clear that Allah is not like us. He doesn’t need sustenance, procreate (therefore the son/children-of-God doctrine was total bollocks), get tired, age, die, get forgetful or make mistakes, etc. He is not like any of His creations.

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Taken from aintnogod.com

So for most of my life I had a term in my head to refer to Allah: the Meta-Force. Force because He has no physical form or substance yet still makes things happen, Meta- because I thought of forces (like gravity, electromagnetism, strong & weak nuclear, etc.) as creations and astagfirullah for defining the Almighty by His creations! To me Allah was invisible and all-seeing, inaudible* and all-hearing, omnipotent, omniscient yet only partially knowable, omnibenevolent**, etc.

* except for the one and only time in human history He spoke to Moses through the burning bush. 

** as for people who posit the “problem of evil”, to me there was no such problem. Evil is caused by us, choosing to act upon the whispers of our eternal enemy the Satan. It was that simple. 

God, Yahweh and Allah were synonymous, just different names for exactly the same thing. Despite what evangelical Christians (and even some Muslims) like to think, the god of the Bible, Torah & Qur’an were one and the same being. It’s just the Bible & Torah were distorted by people through the passage of time. Unlike a lot of Muslims, I also didn’t exclude the possibility that Krishna, Rama, the Buddha, etc. were all prophets too. Muhammad reportedly said there were 124,000 prophets throughout human history and the Qur’an only mentions about 25 by name. It also stood to reason that other holy scriptures (Upanishads, Tripitaka, and others) could very well have been messages of Allah that got distorted after the messengers died. Therefore I always felt a bit compelled to respect them all even if I believed they were wrong.

Allah occupies a dimension completely outside of our universe that we have no hope of ever accessing. We’d have to exit the space-time fabric and enter worlds with more than 3 dimensions, which is and always will be impossible no matter how advanced our technology becomes. There is a hadiyth (narration of Muhammad) that says there are seven worlds/ dimensions/ universes layered on top of each other. As vast and beautiful as it is, our universe (the dunya) is the lowest of all, a mere drop in the ocean compared to the next one above. That one is only a drop in the ocean compared to the one above it, which is only a drop in the ocean compared to the one above it, etc. Then the highest of them is – again – a drop in the ocean compared to what’s above it: the kursiy* of Allah. The only thing above that is Allah Himself, for whom there is no comparison.

* Often translated as throne, but the throne of Allah is called a different name – ‘arsh. Kursiy really translates as footstool. 

‘ARSH = THRONE
KURSIY = FOOTSTOOL

As I grew older and wiser (I like to think!) my understanding of Allah evolved again. For a start I decided that since Allah wasn’t male I should stop saying “He”. Fuck the supposed disrespect, “It” or “IT” was more accurate.

However, I had given very little thought to my personal relationship with Allah, simply because Islam does not mention personal relationships with God much beyond love, hope and fear. This is the state a true believer is meant to die in: simultaneously loving to serve and remember Allah; hoping that all our love, good intentions & actions will be enough to earn us Paradise; fearing that it may not be.

Oh yeah, and love what Allah and His messenger love and hate what Allah and His messenger hates.

Islamic prayers are also extremely ritualised. The exact same movements of standing/ bowing/ prostrating/ kneeling/ raising the right index finger, 5 times a day every day. The words are identical each and every time except a part in the standing when you recite any part of the Qur’an you choose, as long as it’s no less than 3 verses. And always in Arabic, don’t care if you’re in the 80+% of non-Arabic speaking Muslimiyn worldwide. No let-offs, only exceptions are if you’re mentally or physically incapable of performing them, and if you do them late you must make them up. The repetitiveness is meant to focus you on Allah, so that your faith & sincerity will increase to the point where you’ll be praying as if you can directly see Him. Even though Muhammad explicitly stated we cannot see Allah.

You are allowed to make personalised supplications outside of prayer times for any reason you want, but since the prophet also did them it’s recommended to follow his examples verbatim. And since he was an Arabic-speaking Arab, it’s better to do them in Arabic.

Astagfirullah! How dare you use the holy language of the final prophet to make a likeness of creation? And with Allah’s name?!? This is idolatry, and blasphemy, and…

In summary Islam’s stance is: Allah created us, we just have to sincerely serve Him and hope for a good afterlife. This dunya is a prison for the believers and paradise to unbelievers, but it’s all good because the akhirah (hereafter) will be eternal happiness for you and eternal torture for them. Just have sabr (patience/ forbearance), focus on the akhirah instead of the dunya. Allah has already spelt out everything we need to know for life, just use your free will to obey and submit. Oh, and think for yourself because Allah commands it.

So what about angels, jinn & prophets?

Islam is very clear on that:

Prophets (anbiya) are humans so spiritually pure and the rest of humanity so impure Allah gave them authority to dispense His messages. According to conventional Islamic belief, all prophets were men. All of them were tasked to deliver Allah’s message to their people, whereas only Muhammad was instructed to deliver to all humanity as he was the last one.

This always begged the question in my mind: what qualifies some people to be that spiritually pure? Obviously age doesn’t factor in: Muhammad was a prophet at age 40 while Jesus was a prophet from birth!

Angels (mala’ika) are another type of creation altogether, totally unrelated to us. They travel at light speed, don’t eat or drink, and carry out Allah’s commands exactly since they don’t have free will, and they can live all the way to Judgment Day. They can visit our world (when Allah allows it) but don’t live in it. The Qur’an and ahadiyth don’t describe their appearances at all, apart from just that they’re massive, made of light and have any number of wings.

I thought of them as God’s tools in a way, as they’re tasked with stuff like directing the winds, telling seeds to grow, carrying souls into foetuses, carrying Allah’s throne & footstool, blowing the trumpet on Judgment Day, etc.

Jinn are another type of creation. The closest Biblical equivalent is demons, but not all jinn are evil. Just most of them, same as humans because they also have free will. They are similar in power to angels, as they’re created from “smokeless fire” – whatever that means. They live in our world, form communities, eat, drink, procreate and have religions like us. They usually don’t get involved with us – so possessions are damn near non-existent – but will attack us if disturbed. Ibliys was their ancestor, and when he refused to prostrate to Adam he became the Shaytan (devil). Although he hates us and wants us all to burn in Hell, Allah is so merciful Shaytan  is allowed to live ’til Judgment Day. According to one report, Allah is even SO merciful that if Shaytan were to repent Allah would forgive him!!!

Devils (shayatiyn) are just any evil-minded beings, usually jinn but can be used for humans too.

Since I believed in Islam so strongly, I believed jinn and angels must be empirically verifiable. For years I scoured the Internet for scientific explanations, and the ones that made most sense to me were that angels are the fundamental forces of nature (gravity, weak & nuclear, electromagnetism) and jinn are bacteria.

And then…

More properly called slaves, part 1

Inspired by Don Jordan & Michael Walsh’s White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America, ISBN 9781845961930.

This post will focus on the TAST (trans-Atlantic slave trade) but not on the enslaved Africans. Rather, I’ll focus on the enslaved Europeans. It’s not news that ‘whites’ enslaved each other, but rarely is that point dwelt on. I aim to correct that.

I’m going to do separate posts on each chapter, simply because they’re too long and interesting to summarise in one. Conveniently, the book summarises itself in the introduction so I’ll base this first post on that:

It should first be made clear that those ‘whites’ were ENSLAVED. Nowadays there’s an argument that they weren’t slaves as slaves were in lifelong servitude; these were servants contracted (indentured) to serve for a limited time then given freedom & rights. This claim isn’t new; it dates directly from that era and was as justificatory as it is now. But even in theory that argument was bollocks, never mind in practice – especially since the vast majority of them had their servitude periods extended indefinitely at their masters’ whim AND most of them died before the end of their period. Even the tiny minority who outlived their service rarely gained freedom or land rights, living as dirt-poor as they were back in England. While it’s true that from the mid-1700s to 1800s “servant” was understood to mean ‘white’ chattels while “slave”/”Negro” meant ‘black’ ones, masters saw their status as identical, even after lifelong enslavement of Africans was enforced.

Daniel Defoe (c. 1660-1731) said indentured servants are “more properly called slaves”, hence this post’s title.

And my mind is not changed in the least!

In short, both in theory & in practice indentured servant = servant = serf = chattel = slave.

A bit of historical context also helps make sense of the whole TAST:

  • It was conjured up by England, the basis of which was laid in the 1570s.
  • It was a continuation of the old serfdom system, which had supposedly ended in the European Renaissance.
  • Virginia & Maryland were where the first and most successful colonies were established.
  • Though making money off of other people’s backs was an integral purpose of the colonies, since they expected to find cities of gold* like the Spanish & Portuguese did in south America, the main reason for slave labour was to rid England of its “surplus” people – the “poor & lawless”.

* It never happened. Eventually they wised up and looked to crops to line their pockets.

  • After more colonists came, the north American mainland became the main site for expanding the British Empire in conjunction with personal profiteering. The Caribbean islands, on the other hand, were mainly just for personal profiteering.

Though figures are inexact, it’s known hundreds of thousands of ‘whites’ were transported and enslaved. Many of them went by force, but from 1620-1775 the majority went voluntarily and were called free-willers. They thought they were selling just their labour temporarily, but found they were selling their human rights. They were duped into thinking they’d have land, money & renown at the end, only to find they were as bad off as back home or more so.

IF they survived overwork, infirmity, punishments (one girl reportedly received 500 lashes from the whip and was beaten to death!), diseases (many of which were unique to English slaves), the voyages themselves*, malnutrition, overexposure to sun, and attacks from native Americans fed up of their lands being invaded.

Yes, Brits and other ‘white’ slaves were packed into ships in this exact same manner. Needless to say hygiene was piss-poor, illnesses ran rampant and most didn’t make it to land alive. 

From the 16th to early 17th centuries, ‘white’ people were the main labour force of the new American colonies. Even after Africans became the predominant slaves, Europeans were still used left, right and centre throughout the entire TAST period. They were worked and punished, rebelled, ran away & fought alongside the ‘black’ slaves.

The very first slaves were NOT Irish as you may think, though the English did harbour a special hatred of Irish since Anglo-Norman days. It’s true the English saw them as fundamentally inferior and enslaved many of them. They even committed genocide and tried to totally replace them (thanks in large part to Oliver Cromwell).

But that was much later.

The first TAST slaves were English! AND most of them were kidnapped children!

Just to remind you who did the kidnapping

Kidnapping children for this purpose eventually became so common that kidnappers (known as Spirits, hence the phrase spirited away) made a business out of it. They hung around at nearby ports weaving their way into the crowded streets targeting pretty much any lone child they found.

Those children were often beggars, pickpockets and other kinds of street urchins. Some of them were sent by their parents conned into thinking they’d have a better life. However, most were taken without the parents’ knowledge or consent. The work was so torturous and the climate so intolerable to their city-bred bodies most died in the first year! Some were so young, back in 1661 a man was shipping 4 “Irish boys” and his wife said they were so little he should’ve sent them in cradles! Remember Britain only banned child labour in the late 1800s!

In the late 1700s adults (predominantly convicts and petty criminals) were sent as a way to empty England’s overcrowded gaols (prisons) and get rid of the criminals. At first the law didn’t know or care where to chuck them but soon enough settled on the Americas. In other words, before Australia America used to be a dumping ground for England’s human refuse!

Such refuse weren’t always criminals however. They also included many religious & political dissidents (everyone who wasn’t Protestant or didn’t like the current monarch), prostitutes, beggars, and just the down-on-their-luck.

Then came the Irish, during Oliver Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing policy and for at least a century afterward. They were pretty much all taken against their will.

I did it not for pleasure, for pleasure is a sin. Twas my Christian duty

Throughout the entire era Africans were stolen for the same purpose of course. However, the disgusting abusive treatment inflicted on our ancestors was practised and perfected on the ‘white’ slaves first. The slavers ultimately didn’t give a flying fuck who their chattels were, as long as they didn’t have to do shit for themselves. Contrary to the popular American creation myth, American freedoms were gained only after LONG centuries of wanton punishments & enslavement of the poor majority.

Just like today, there were many who denied or belittled this ‘white’ slave trade. Back in the Renaissance Shakespeare’s favourite historian Raphael Holinshed, for example, claimed England had no slaves anymore and any slave who set foot on English soil became immediately free! Maybe that’s why those marked for servanthood were sent away from England, to keep that myth going?

Tens of millions of Euro-Americans today are descendants of those slaves. How many claim them, the way we’re always expected to? How many go out of their way to acknowledge them?

tumbleweed family
Just in case the tumbleweed got lonely, I brought its whole family!

Now onto the fun! Part 2