NEWS:  January 31, 2002

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

THE GARDENS OF ALLAH – "Think of everything that Allah promised to martyrs…" said one of the papers found among the belongings left behind by the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks. On this subject, what are the promises of Allah according to Mohammed? In its latest issue, the French magazine Actualité des Religions (December, 2001) published an interesting and well-documented article entitled "Checking with the Koran", which exposes what the "holy" book and tradition of the Mohammedans teach on the topic.

I will summarize the article. "All the faithful who die in combat will enter into paradise!" These were the words Mohammed directed to the troops gathered in Badr in 624 to fight against the habitants of Mecca. After that, there are yet many other Koranic phrases that confirm this idea. "Cursed wherever they are found, they will be seized and put to death. Such has been the way of God with those who have gone before them. You shall find no change in the ways of Allah." (33, 61-62). Muslim jurists frequently repeated that a privileged place at the side of Allah is reserved to those who deliver themselves to Jihad (holy war) and die as martyrs. "A tradition …. attributes to the Prophet [Mohammed] words that say that Allah reserves his laughter and the higher regions of paradise to his faithful who intrepidly and without hesitation expose themselves on the battlefield," confirms historian Alfred Morabia in his book The Jihad in Medieval Islam (Le Gihad dans l'Islam médiéval, Paris: Albin Michel, 1993).

Muslim tradition trills with descriptions of this paradise of the martyrs, a type of super-paradise accessible through the door of the Jihad. These descriptions are supported in a famous phrase of Mohammed which details the privileges which the martyr enjoys in the eyes of Allah: "He is pardoned immediately; he can see his place in paradise; he has no need to answer after his death [to the interrogation of the two angels]; his forehead will be encircled with a crown of dignity made of hyacinths of the (material) goods of that world; he will have 72 women with eyes like those of the gazelle for his wives; and he will intercede for 72 of his neighbors." The gardens of Allah or paradise are described many times in the Koran: "They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait upon them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish." (56, 16-21). In these gardens "watered by running streams" (85, 11), between "the palm-trees and the pomegranates" (55, 68), they will find "dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents …. whom no man will have touched before." (55, 70-72). "Thus shall the righteous be rewarded," says Allah to his faithful (77, 44), promising them moreover that their faces will "shine with joy" (76, 11), they will be served with "silver goblets of ginger-flavored water" (76, 17) and they will be dressed in "garments of fine green silk and rich brocade and adorned with bracelets of silver." (76, 21).

With this stimulus to embrace Jihad, it should come as no surprise that the most "devoted" young Mohammedans would commit voluntary suicide for the cause that they consider noble. We need only look at the papers found by the FBI near the airports where the September 11 assaults took place. There we can read: "Think on everything that Allah promised to the martyrs in the company of the prophets, our brothers, martyrs and those who are righteous." Nearby also are the "women of paradise, adorned with beautiful jewelry." And by means of the glorious death as a martyr of Allah, the manuscript further reads, "a life of happiness begins where God is pleased with you."

I do not see how to escape the internal logic of the Muslim religion. The Jihad is in its very essence a corollary of the religion preached by Mohammed. There is no question of separating text from the context, like some "moderate" American religious leaders recently alleged. The paradise of the martyrs available through the Jihad is perhaps the "noblest" ideal of the Muslim message. To say the contrary seems to me a mere ploy to anesthetize the healthy reaction of the West.

A NEW ADVERTISING STAR - The president of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz, appeared in an advertisement for the German airline Lufthansa to help to rebuild consumer confidence following terrorist attacks in the United States. The advertisement, carried in German newspapers in late November, featured a photograph of the Cardinal accompanied by the message: "Peace and freedom will have no future without contact with other people." Diocesan spokesman Jürgen Strickstrock said that Lehmann "wanted to thank Lufthansa for the many journeys he has made with them" (America, December 10, 2001). Certainly the wealthy German airline company was pleased with this new and important "celebrity endorsement," and rewarded the favor with something more than two or three kegs of beer …

POPE'S COIN - On January 1, the new European currency, the euro, was put into circulation. The Vatican had already officially approved the European Union (E.U.) and became a part of it, and in January 2002, that juridical agreement became a practical reality. Thanks to this official union, after December 31, 2001 the Vatican no longer will use the Italian lira, but will use the euro. This step decreases the already feeble temporal independence of the Holy See. Henceforth with regard to currency, the Vatican will no longer rely on the Italian government, which is deferential to the Holy See, but will have to depend upon the distant and more or less anonymous government of the E.U.

The Vatican's Philatelic and Numismatic Office revealed that the new Vatican currency was coined by Italian sculptor Guido Veroi. One side of the Vatican coin is like that of the rest of the European countries, but the other side has John Paul II's image facing left. A euro is currently worth about 90 cents in U.S. currency. Bishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican undersecretary for relations with States, said that the Vatican State will coin currency in euros and has committed itself to apply E.U. norms for bills and coins (the euros) in its territory (Zenit, December 14, 2001). Here I am not concerned about discussing the financial aspects of the change. My point is different. By permitting his image on this new coin, John Paul II has given another symbolic and powerful stimulus to the European Union, which with the issuance of the euro is taking an important step toward the Universal Republic.

POPE'S CARTOON - John Paul II, already a star of films and television programs, is now to receive the top billing in a cartoon film. Entitled "Wojtyla," the six-minute cartoon was conceived by Italian commercial artist Mario Verger. The film was presented at the most recent Genzano International Festival of Animated Cartoons and narrates the human and spiritual journey of John Paul II. Verger imagined his cartoon as a homage to the Polish Pope and pictured more 'simpatico' aspects of his pontificate (Zenith, November 6, 2001).

My commentary is not concerned with the author's intention, but with the Vatican permission to present the Pope in such an unserious way. Certainly it is one more step in the desacralization of the Papacy, a matter in which Karol Wojtyla has been a champion, as the reader can further verify in the photo-book Previews of the New Papacy.




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