Remembering Uzza

If Islam was explained to me in a pub

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Archie Loses It!

Uzza: You want interesting stuff! One night, Gabriel showed up, not to deliver another batch of communications from Allah but with a flying horse, telling Muhammad to get on it and ride it to Paradise. God wanted to talk to him personally.

Bob: A flying horse! Couldn’t God have just beamed him up?

Uzza: But then people would not have believed him; these people believed in flying horses.

Gerry: Does this horse have a name?

Uzza: Yes, al-Burak.

Archie: This is crazy.

Uzza: In Greek mythology you have Pegasus, the flying stallion with wings that Bellerophon rode in his attack on the Chimera.

Archie: Yes, but this flying horse of the Prophet is an article of faith, right? To the believers, al-Burak the flying horse is not a myth?

Uzza: If Muhammad said he rode a horse with wings to Paradise for a private meeting with God, you have to believe that it happened; to deny it is to risk being labeled a heretic and killed on the spot.

Gerry: I don’t remember reading about a flying horse in the Koran.

Uzza: The only reference in the Koran to this trip to Paradise is about a night journey between two mosques[99] during which the traveller is set upon by throngs of what are believed to be the jinn[100].

Bob: You mean genies?

Uzza: The caricature of the genie is undoubtedly based on this creature of the Koran. Of all the inhabitants of the Koran, jinns − Allah refers to them collectively as the jinn − are the most fascinating. Like men, He created the jinn to worship him, not to feed Him[101]. Jinns can be persuaded to do good if given the proper incentive. Some less-than-cooperative jinn, with a little prodding from Allah, helped Solomon build the first temple[102]. Some became believers after listening to Muhammad recite verses from the Koran[103]. They even have a chapter of the Koran named after them: surah 72, The Jinn. If some jinns are more perverted than others, it is because of humans who spent time with them and told them that Allah could not raise the dead[104]. Some even had the nerve to say that jinns have a connection with Allah, that they are kin[105]. It does not matter; they will all be lumped together on Judgment Day to be judged[106].

Bob: That is unreal!

Archie: That is ridiculous.

Uzza: You do not often hear imams preaching about the jinn. They are a bit of an embarrassment. Believing in the jinn is like believing in ghosts: you cannot see them, but you have to believe that they are there.

Bob: Just like believing in God. You can’t see Him, hear Him or smell Him but you know He’s there. Does that mean, to be a Muslim is to believe in ghosts?

Uzza: Jinns are not ghosts.

Bob: But you just said…

Uzza: I said, like believing in ghosts. Pre-Islamic Arabs believed in the existence of the jinn and this may explain their significant presence in the Koran.

Archie: How do you create something you can’t see? And how do you prove you've created anything when normal people have never seen one?

Uzza: From fire. He created them from fire, and you can see fire.

Archie: If jinns are like fire, what is it that's burning?

Uzza: I do not know. I do not even know if they are like fire. Just that Allah says he created them from fire[107].

Archie: I'm sorry, Uzza, I didn't mean to put you on the spot. It's hard enough trying to explain what our invisible so-called friend in the sky looks like, let alone the invisible things he claims to have created.

Bob: Do jinns behave like genies, and when you capture one do they grant you three wishes?

Archie: If you’re going to try to catch one, you better be wearing oven mitts.

Uzza: [hesitatingly) No. The jinn spent most of their time between heaven and Earth near the lowest of the seven heavens, eavesdropping on Allah's conversations with his angels and reporting to soothsayers who employ them about God's plan for the future.

Bob: So soothsayers can see them?

Archie: Fortune-tellers are not normal people.

Uzza: The most famous soothsayer in Islamic traditions is the one whom Muhammad’s father Abdallah consulted about the cost to renege on his promise to God that if he granted him ten sons, he would sacrifice the tenth in gratitude.

Archie: Too bad he didn’t.

Uzza: Too bad for you.

Bob: I don’t get it.

Archie: The tenth son had to be the one who would grow up to become the Prophet Muhammad.

Bob: Oh!

Archie: So how much did Allah demand to release Abdulla from his pledge?

Uzza: Not Abdulla, Abdallah. The jinn who flew the mission reported to his employer that he had overheard Allah in a conversation with His angels about Abdallah’s plight and that a hundred camels would suffice. That is still how Sharia law sets the cost of a human life, should the family of a person killed by another demand blood money instead of capital punishment. Muhammad, in his last sermon, warned that anyone who asked for more than a hundred camels was from the age of ignorance[108].

Bob: And that’s in the Koran?

Uzza: The Koran sanctions blood money payments[109]; it does not set the amount.

Archie: Wish I had a jinn in my employ.

Bob: To hear what God has to say about you?

Archie: To tell God what I think of him.

Uzza: Good luck with that. It is only the odd jinn that make it past the barrage of rocks, what we call comets and shooting stars, thrown by angels to get them to keep their distance[110], even if there are many of them, as Muhammad discovered when he was swarmed[111] on his way to Paradise on the back of al-Burak to confer with God.

Archie: I need a drink. This is too weird.

Uzza: I thought bartenders did not drink when on duty.

Archie: What can I say? Islam is driving me to drink on the job. Besides, it’s only us here.

Bob: Exactly how far is heaven that a flying horse can get there in one night, with time to spare for its rider to visit God, and return home that same night, I assume?

Uzza: The Koran places Paradise just above the clouds held up by invisible pillars[112] anchored to a flat Earth[113] floating on a sea of mud[114]. A short flight for a horse like al-Burak, even if he did not fly there directly but made a detour to Jerusalem.

Archie: And getting weirder by the minute.

Gerry: Why Jerusalem? Why not take the more direct route with Paradise not much more than five miles up, nothing that a flying horse in his prime could not easily cover?

Archie: Gerry, are you serious? Do you actually believe any of this?

Gerry: It has nothing to do with what I believe but what Uzza believes. And what Uzza believes, I want to hear about.

Uzza: Thank you, Gerry, you are very kind. What I am telling you is what Islamists proclaim to be true, and what Islamists believe to be the truth is what we all must eventually profess to believe if we want to live.

Bob: Good enough for me. But why did the Prophet fly to Jerusalem first, then up to heaven?

Uzza: When he got to Jerusalem, Muhammad landed on an outcrop of rock where he rested al-Burak and over which the Dome of the Rock was built after the Muslim conquered Jerusalem, consecrating it as the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.

Bob: The Prophet flew to Jerusalem to consecrate a rock. That is crazy!

Uzza: He did not fly to Jerusalem to sanctify anything. Others did that. He flew to Jerusalem to meet with the prophets of the Bible before his important meeting with God. His meeting with Moses, in particular, would prove extremely valuable in his negotiations with the Almighty.

Bob: I guess it would make sense for their graves to be located in Jerusalem. Still, meeting with the undead before meeting with God, that took guts.

Uzza: He did not meet with them in their graves. He met with them as he made his way up to the seventh heaven for the meeting with God. The Hebrew prophets are alive and well in that area of Paradise just above Jerusalem.

Gerry: That sort of makes sense.

Archie: NO, IT DOESN'T! And, Uzza, didn't you just say that jinns fly to the first level of heaven to listen to God’s conversations with his angels, not the seventh?

Uzza: Maybe when God speaks, His voice is heard everywhere in Paradise.

Archie: If He is that loud we would also hear him down here, wouldn’t we? And, didn't you just say that everyone, including the greatest of them all, must spend time in the grave until Judgment Day?

Uzza: Yes.

Archie: So, what are these lesser fortune-tellers doing in heaven?

Uzza: [taken aback] I am no scholar. I have not spent a lifetime making sense of these things, and prophets are not fortune-tellers.

Archie: If the shoe fits. [not letting up] The people of Jerusalem must have been surprised when a man on a flying horse landed there? The Prophet must have been the talk of the town?

Uzza: There were no witnesses to Muhammad's landing or takeoff. We only have his word that the trip actually took place.

Archie: Why am I not surprised.

Bob: I assume the Prophet made it past the swarm of genies, I mean jinns, and made it to Paradise in one piece.

Uzza: Yes, he did, and when he got to the second level he spotted Jesus in conversation with John the Baptist.

Archie: I'll bite. What does Jesus look like?

Uzza: Muhammad was obviously enthralled with his trip to Paradise, and it was a busy time with all he had to do in one night. In one account of his trip, Jesus has lanky hair and is of medium height and moderate complexion. In another, Jesus has curly hair and a broad chest. And, in yet another, Jesus has a red face as if, according to Muhammad, he had just experienced a difficult bowel movement.

Bob: Whoa, too much information.

Archie: From the Prophet's description, it could be anybody.

Bob: Forget Jesus, what does God look like?

Uzza: Muhammad does not say.

Archie: Go figure.

Gerry: What was so important that God could not entrust Gabriel with the negotiations?

Uzza: It had to do with the number of prayers. God initially told Muhammad that He wanted everyone to pray fifty times a day.

Archie: Fifty times a day! You have to be kidding.

Uzza: That is more or less what Moses told Muhammad when he met him again on the way down. Moses told Muhammad to get back up there and tell God that it was unrealistic. After bouncing between Moses and God a few more times, God finally agreed to five prayers a day. Moses still thought this was too much, but Muhammad refused to ask God for a further reduction, and that is how, according to the man himself, the five daily prayers required of all Sunni Muslims were set (appendix: Negotiating the Prayers).

Bob: What about the Shias?

Uzza: They agreed with Moses, I guess, and combined the night prayer and the after sunset prayer into one and the noon and afternoon prayer into one for a total of three prayers a day.

Archie: Forget the prayers. This is nuts. This is absolutely friggin nuts. A guy who took his dreams for reality flies into the middle of what has to be one of the largest cities in the Middle East on a horse with wings, tethers it to a rock in the middle of town and nobody notices. He then gets back on the same horse, and still nobody notices, to fly to Paradise, which is held up by invisible pillars which nobody has yet to walk into or planes crash into, to be swarmed by ghosts on his way up to meet with people who should be living a zombie-like existence underground, not above it, in what has to be a massively honeycombed Earth to provide individual caves for the undead since Adam and Eve, or earlier if you believe the Earth is more than 6,000 years waiting for Judgment Day, before his meeting with the big guy, whom he can't describe, to negotiate, spurred on by Moses of all people, the number of prayers God expects his followers to perform every day.

Gerry: Breathe, Archie, breathe.

Archie: It's a bloody fairy tale, and not a very good one at that. A fairy tale for which people have been murdered in the hundreds of millions, most by people using only knives and swords. Think about that. And more millions, you are telling us, are about to meet a similar fate as the Islamists attempt to bring a war started to convert the planet through terror to a bloody end.

Gerry: Archie, relax.

Archie: Next, you will be telling us that Islamists, our enlightened self-righteous would-be murderers, believe in witches on flying brooms?

Uzza: [sheepishly] I am sorry, but yes; maybe not the flying broom part, Allah was not that specific. In the Koran, witches and sorceresses are referred to as "those who blow into knotted reeds"[115].

Archie: I've heard enough!

Gerry: I haven’t.

Bob: And neither have I.

Archie: I thought you wanted to know about what happened to the Jews after the battle of Badr?

Bob: Later, this is more interesting.

Archie: Fairy tales usually are.