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Book Review

Gathering Fodder for the Final Inferno

Title: The Politics of Apocalypse
The History and Influence of Christian Zionism
By: Dan Cohn-Sherbook
Oneworld Books, Oxford
Year 2006, Pages 221,
ISBN: 13:978-1-85168-453-3

Christian Zionism, a variant of Christian fundamentalism, is today a major global force to reckon with. Christian Zionists are a key player in American (and to a lesser extent, Western European) politics. Firm backers of Zionism, Israel and Israeli expansionism, they are also one of the principal fountainheads of Islamophobia on the global scence. The origins, development and politics of Christian Zionism are brought out in considerable detail in this well-researched, balanced and very timely book by the noted activist scholar Dan Cohn-Sherbook, himself a Jew, and Professor of Judaism at the University of Wales.
Approximately a tenth of the American population is a devoted member of the cult of Christian Zionism, the author observes. ‘It is the fastest growing religious movement in Christianity today’, he notes (p.xi). Many followers of the cult are from the middle and upper-middle classes, followers of televangelists who wield enormous political and economic clout. Christian Zionists are impelled by an imperialistic vision, of Jesus’ impending arrival on earth, when he shall, so they believe, wipe out all his enemies (all non-Christians, presumably) and establish his global dominion, with his capital at Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Christian Zionists believe that they, as allegedly God’s chosen people, will be spared the horrors of the global war that shall precede Jesus’ advent, and will be miraculously wafted up to heaven, where they shall watch the final destruction of the world.
Christian Zionists believe that Jesus can only return to the world once the Jews colonise Palestine. This belief is based on the contentious claim that God had granted this land to the progeny of Abraham, through Isaac, that is the Jews, for eternity. This land is not restricted to the present borders of the state of Israel. Instead, Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, believe that a vast swathe of land, stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, today inhabited by millions of Arab Muslims and Christians, belongs rightfully to the Jews, and so must be ethnically ‘cleansed’ of non-Jewish presence. Hence the justification they offer for their genocidal project aimed at the Arabs. Hence, too, their consistent backing to Israel, their generous funding of Jewish settlements in Palestine, and their enormous pressure on successive American governments to adopt rigorously pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian policies.
The author traces the origins of Christian Zionism to the changing attitude of Christian groups towards the Jews following the Protestant Revolution. The early Catholic Church justified the witch-hunt of the Jews, labeling them as alleged Christ-killers. However, numerous Protestant sects, while equally vehemently anti-Jewish, believed that the Jews needed to colonise Palestine before Jesus would re-appear in the world to save it. This was, and still is, by no means a generous acceptance of the Jews. Rather, they believed, as Christian Zionists today do, that only those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah would be saved. The rest would ally themselves with the Anti-Christ and would be defeated by Jesus and his forces and, consequently, would be sent off to eternal damnation in the fires of hell.
From the 17th century onwards, the author shows, numerous European, and, later American, Protestant churches began evolving schemes to settle the Jews in Palestine. This was also seen as a convenient way of getting rid of the Jewish presence in Europe. They petitioned various European powers to back this scheme. By the early 19th century, numerous British administrators had been won round to this idea, impelled, no doubt, also by a motive to undermine the Ottoman Empire, which at that time controlled Palestine, and by a deep-rooted aversion to Islam.
Increasingly, the author shows, Christian Zionists began to join hands with secular Jewish Zionists, whose plans to settling Jews in Israel had nothing to do with any messianic hopes, but, rather, arose as a response to the centuries’-old persecution of Jews by European Christians. (In contrast, the author rightly notes, ‘In Arab lands, Jews had flourished for centuries […] [while] in European countries Jewry had been subject to oppression and persecution’ (p.44).
Ties between secular Jewish Zionists and Christian Zionists to pursue the common project of Jewish colonization of Palestine, the author writes, were strengthened by the support given to Theodore Herzl (b.1860), the Hungarian Jew who is regarded as the father of modern-day Zionism. The author traces the course of this close collaboration down to the present-day, describing the strong political and financial links between Christian and Israeli/Jewish Zionists and also the enormous clout of the Zionist lobby in American political circles.
The author clearly indicates that Christian Zionism, based on a virulently anti-Islamic agenda, is a major hurdle to peace not just in West Asia but globally, too. Indeed, some Christian Zionists even ardently wish (and work for) a final global war, in the belief that this would accelerate their hoped-for wafting up to heaven and the subsequent arrival of Jesus. At the same time, and this gives some cause for hope, the author also discusses critiques of the Zionist imperialist project by progressive Christian and Jewish groups and also by orthodox Jewish Rabbis, who are opposed to Zionism on the grounds that, as the author puts it, ‘It [is] forbidden to accelerate divine redemption through human efforts’.
The Adventures of Amir Hamza

Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction.
By Ghalib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami.
Translated by: Musharraf Ali Farooqi.
Pages 948, Price $45.

Dastangoi or story tell ing is one of those ne glected and almost forgotten arts which once enthralled the masses as well the royalty of the Perso-Islamicate world. Story tellers traveled throughout the Persian speaking realm narrating fantastic tales of bravery, courage, faithfulness, betrayal, and cunning. These stories provided instant entertainment in an age when outlets for such indulgences were few. Among this oral tradition of the east, the Dastan-e Amir Hamza occupies a pride of place among such classics as The Arabian Nights and the Shahnamah. In the Dastan, Amir Hamza is a composite character of righteousness and bravery loosely based on the personality of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) uncle by the same name.
His hair raising encounters with demons, warriors, tricksters, fairies, kings, and magical creatures would give tough competition to the characters of modern day genre of fantasy writing. Emperor Akbar, at the age of 16, was so taken by the charms of the Dastan that he ordered his artists to produce an illustrated version which would eventually fill 14 enormous volumes. Unfortunately, however, this monumental piece of work was lost and only parts of it survive. It was not until the end of the 19th century that a compact one volume Urdu text of the Dastan was produced by Ghalib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami. This version has now been faithfully rendered into English by the Toronto based translator and author Musharraf Ali Farooqi.
Farooqi has succeeded in translating the epic in a highly readable manner while remaining faithful to the original Urdu. Sample this: “The gazetteers of miscellanies, tale-bearers of varied annals, the enlightened in the ethereal realms of legend writing, and recokeners of the subtle issues of eloquence thus gallop the noble steed of the pen through the field of composition, and spur on the delightful tale.” The fantastic tales coupled with the textual deftness of the translator, The Adventures of the Amir Hamza, Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction, keeps the reader fixated from start to the finish. It was not without reason that Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi in his famous Baheshti Zewar had warned proper women from reading the Dastan. Musharraf Ali Farooqi, who is coincidentally the grand-nephew of Maulana Thanwi, takes it even further. He writes, “Taking modern-day sensibilities into account, I would just add that men, too, must not sit down with this book without a bottle of smelling salts close at hand.” The book’s lucidity and ornamentation is enough to transfer anyone into an enchanted world.
The Dastan provides an insight into the society of the Perso-Islamicate world complete with the courtly manners, dress, myths, and legends. In a world increasingly marked by rhetoric of clash of civilizations, the appearance of this translation is a fitting reply to the likes of Bernard Lewis who mock the supposed lack of artistic excellence in the Islamic civilization. More importantly it reinforces the qualities that are common to all: courage, truthfulness, fidelity, and honour.
Coinciding with the publication of this translation, it is hopeful to note that there has been a revival of sorts in the Dastangoi tradition in India and Pakistan. While Mahmood Farooqi and Murtaza Danish Hussaini have kept the tradition alive in India, there is evidence that it is gaining currency in Pakistan as well. Karachi’s International Schools Educational Olympiad 2008 for the first time held a Dastangoi theatre performance competition last month.
Similitudes in The Holy Qur'an
Similitudes in The Holy Qur'an
Compiled by
Mohammad Abdul Rahim
Islamic Book Service
Kucha chelan, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002
Pages 200, Price Rs. 125

The Holy Qur'an is re plete with similitudes, metaphors, allegories and idioms. The divine revelation draws upon diverse array of imagery from the surroundings of its earliest audience, i.e., the Arabs of the deserts of Hijaz. These help elucidate the understanding and unraveling of the underlying message. The vast number of similitudes captured the imagination of author Mohammad Abdul Rahim while listening to Qur'anic commentary by Hyderabad based scientist, Dr. Mir Aneesuddin. He began to compile the verses that employ them to draw morals, explain natural phenomena and open new vistas of thinking. The book under review is a result of his painstaking compilation of all such verses and the notes he could develop upon them.
While most comparisons are roughly translated as tamaseel in Urdu, the author has put the Qur'anic tamaseel in categories of similes, allegories, metaphors and idioms. Here lies the forte of the book. Though the author’s notes are a bit longish, the distinction maintained between the various categories enhances the value of the work. It further simplifies the task by subject wise classification of the similitudes. The book is a valuable addition to the Qur'anic literature and may prove a help to researchers on the subject. Editing is impeccable. Though same cannot be said about the layout.