Islam – Essay – Fundamentals and History

There are few people on earth today who have not heard something about Islam. Islam is one of the most prominent religions in the world today with at least 750 million people practicing. Islam is a voluntary relationship between an individual and his creator. Islam emerged in Arabia during the early 7th century. Islam means “submission” in Arabic, which is the basis for the religion—-submitting to the Will of God. Islamic religion is formed on the foundations of Islamic life, variety and unity is Islam, and Islam and its nonbelievers. The Islamic people had a new faith in their religion and kept their hopes high to conquer and spread the religion. They changed the society that was used across the lands and brought a new religion that would keep the people high in assurance that they’ll always have a good spirit.

The foundations of Islamic life are based on a sacred text called the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. The Qu’ran is the prime source of every Muslims’ faith and practice. It deals with all the subjects which concern us as human beings: wisdom, doctrine, worship, and law, but its basic theme is the relationship between God and his creatures. At the same time it provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and an equitable economic system. From the time the Qu’ran was revealed, until this day there has always been a large number of Muslims who have memorized all of the Qu’ran, letter by letter. Not one letter of the Qu’ran has been changed over the centuries.

Another source for the basis of Islamic life is al-Hadith, or sunnah. This is a vast body of transmitted stories and sayings attributed to the Prophet and his comparisons. Unlike the Qu’ran, these stories are not assembled in a single, absolutely accepted text. There are actually many collections of Hadith. Over time, during the first few centuries of Islam, it became obvious that many so-called hadith were in fact spurious sayings that had been fabricated for various motives, at best to encourage believers to act righteously and at worse to corrupt believers’ understanding of Islam and to lead them astray. Since Islamic legal scholars were utilizing hadith as an adjunct to the Qu’ran in their development of the Islamic legal system, it became critically important to have reliable collections of hadith. While the early collections of hadith often contained hadith that were of questionable origin, gradually collections of authenticated hadith called sahih were compiled. Such collections were made possible by the development of the science of hadith criticism, a science at the basis of which was a critical analysis of the chain of (oral) transmission (isnad) of the hadith going all the way back to Muhammad. The two most highly respected collections of hadith are the authenticated collections the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. In addition to these, four other collections came to be well respected, although not to the degree of Bukhari and Muslim’s sahih collections. These four other collections are the Sunan of Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, and Abu Da’ud. Together these four and the two sahih collections are called the “six books” (al-kutub al-sitta). Two other important collections, in particular, are the Muwatta of Ibn Malik, the founder of the Maliki School of law, and the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the founder of the Hanbali School of law.

The third source that provides an important basis for the faith is the biography of the Prophet of God—-Muhammad. Muhammad ibnu Abdillah was born in Mecca in the year 569 CE. Orphaned at an early age, Muhammad was cared for by his uncle. He earned his living as a trader and a Shepard among the Bedouins, and was known by his people as al-amin (the trustworthy one). When he was 25, he married Khadija. When Muhammad reached the age of 40, the angel Gabriel came to him with revelations that established his prophethood. Muhammad was first ordered to instruct his immediate family on Islam, including his beloved wife Khadija, but eventually it was revealed to him that he should begin delivering the message to all of mankind. In the next 20 years of his life, he communicated the message of Allah to his people, and set an example for how each human being should lead her or his life. This is especially valuable since Muhammad is the last Prophet of Allah. In the year 632, the year of his death, the Prophet delivered his famous last sermon.

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How to Live Your Life Passionately

Passion definition: great enthusiasm for something; moved by strong emotion; the state of being acted upon or affected by something; expressing, showing, or marked by intense or strong feeling.

Agape definition: Being in a state of astonishment, wonder, expectation, or eager attention; as with mouth hanging open.

This past month I found myself fascinated by these two words. My question to you, before I even begin this essay, is how often do YOU find yourself using these words to describe events or feelings that you have experienced recently?

First, I would like to say a few words on Passion. Of course the idea of passion is often correlated with sensuality, love, sexuality and affection. All of these ideas are often symbiotic with strong feelings and emotions that I believe most people want more of in their lives. Living passionately may include these aspect of passion, but in addition, it also includes how you interact with your work, your spiritual life, the way you participate with your children and much more. I believe that how fully you invest yourself into who you are and what you do, is what creates a passionate life. Passion also brings with it many important benefits such as greater health, more joy and a greater sense of purpose in life.

Living habitually is toxic to passion. Repetition of one’s life on a day-to-day basis without some method of re-creation, or renewal of clarity of vision creates an automaton like life of knee-jerk responses without the life affirming benefit of spontaneity and the gift of re-creation. Ask yourself right now, what are you passionate about in your life? Your partner? Your family? Your spiritual life or practice? Your work? Your music…art…social cause? Does it enliven you, inspire you, and make you feel like your life is worthwhile? If you are having difficulty in naming one or two things, it is critical that you take some time to re-evaluate how you are choosing to live your life.

Secondly, I would like to discuss the concept of Agape. While I had always in the past felt that this word had a strong religious, esp. Christian connotation, I also had always felt that it described something really significant, as if it was beyond the other descriptive words that tried to describe the indescribable…that sense of being so moved by being in the presence of something so molecular altering that one would have difficulty describing it in words afterwards. The experience somehow held a magical, heart busting open, crack-in-the-world kind of feeling that I felt that if only I were an artist or poet or musician, could I capture that moment with some degree of proper honor.

I found myself reveling in several of such moments recently. One occurred during a recent Yom Kippur Service (a holy Jewish holiday which serves, as Rabbi Ted Falcon described, as a day of At-one-ment) in which the congregation was divided by gender to allow the rare opportunity for all the men to just send love and gratitude to all the women of the congregation in a song. I will remember that moment forever as tears streamed down my eyes and the love I felt that was being given and received, flooded into every cell of my body. Hearing music for me is a vehicle that can occasionally paralyze me into a state of rapt jaw-dropping heart-breaking-open awe. Last month I took the opportunity to witness a performance by Richard Manetti and his son, world-renowned French Django guitarists whose fingers danced on guitars with speed and beauty and dexterity like nothing I had ever before seen. Even more recently, was a spectacular evening of music with performer, songwriter and passionate activist Holly Near and the a capella talents of Emma’s Revolution.

In any one of those awe-inspiring experiences, I could not tell what would appear in the next moment; tears, the widest of smiles my face could muster, or a heart so full that I did not know whether to sit in silence or stand burst out in the loudest of applause! It was just a pure state of being, being present in front of something that reminds me what a gift my life is and how blessed I am.

I think that it is by more frequently making choices for ourselves to create opportunities for the following of one’s heart and intuitive compass, that allows spirit to come in unforeseen ways. Sometimes these directions require courage, sometimes faith and sometimes the simple idea of asking yourself what brings you joy and then following it. Personally, I have chosen to consciously live my life in ways that allows for these windows to the abundance of life to be more likely to show up in my life. I ask you, won’t you join me?

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Creative Writing Tips

Many have a dream of a creative writing career. You may dream of writing the great American novel, or becoming the next Poe. If you are serious about becoming a writer, there are several things you should do and keep in mind.

Write everyday as much as you can.

Writing is not like riding a bike. If you stop writing and go back to it 5 years later, you probably won’t be nearly as good, let alone better. If you want to become a great writer you have to practice all the time. That means everyday. That means setting a certain amount of time to write everyday. Stop right now, check your calendar, and right in a time for everyday that you will write.

Write creatively, not like a high school essay.

You probably hated writing essays in school. They told you to have an introduction paragraph, the body, and the conclusion. Then they said to do the same with each paragraph. Don’t use I and sound really boring. Okay, they might not have said that, but generally, most essays sounded very formal. If you enjoyed writing unique, creative essays, then you are on the right track. I’m not saying to forget everything you’ve learned about writing, I’m just saying that creative writing is much less formal. You want to engage your writer and keep them interested. Don’t let boring monotony kill your story!

Edit your work over and over.

I have come across some people’s writing that was just awful. It was a good story and may have had potential, but it was very poorly written and seemed as though they wrote it once and never looked at it again. If you are writing a piece that you are serious about, especially if you want to publish it, you need to make sure that it is perfect. Print it up, if possible, and read through it a few days after you wrote it. Analyze it and make sure it’s perfect. Then have someone else that you trust go through it as well.

Don’t give up!

For me, writing has always been my dream. I write all the time and I’ve always wanted to be a successful writer. People are always telling me that I am a great writer. If you want to succeed, you can’t give up. Just keep writing and trying to accomplish what you want to accomplish. If you want to publish a novel, do whatever you can to do it.

Write your novel and edit it until you feel it’s perfect. Have a few trusted friends read it and give you some constructive criticism. Send out some query letters to agents and do everything you can to get it published. If you get some poor reactions and you feel like the novel won’t work decide if you feel like it really is good enough to publish and self-publish it, if not, move onto the next novel.

Don’t stop doing what you love. If you really want to succeed, giving up is the worst way to do it. Keep writing and editing, writing and editing, and you just may accomplish your dreams!

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Jon Jost, Independent Film-maker – Stagefright

Jon Jost, independent film-maker. The early films

9. Stagefright

‘Stagefright’ (1981) is very different from the other early Jost films. The reason for the difference is two-fold: firstly it was originally made (in shorter form) for German TV, and Jost has adapted his methods to suit the medium, and secondly the subject under examination, the theatre, is examined in close-up, rather than, as in the pervious two films, through its effect on society at large.

The film looks different because it is all shot in a studio with actors performing against a black background. The emphasis, therefore, in on expression through the human figure, which both suits the TV medium and reproduces the methods of the theatre. In fact, since we are made constantly aware that we are watching actors performing, and since the camera does not move, watching the film is almost as much like being at the theatre as like being at the cinema.

The film has no plot, and like ‘l, 2, 3, Four’ and other early shorts, the sub-text is in essay form. The argument has four stages: an introduction, an exposition, a climax, and a conclusion. The introduction is a short history of human communication, and, like everything else in Jost’s films, it can be read on more than one level. Firstly we are made aware that the subject being illustrated is communication as part of the evolution of mankind. Secondly we are aware that the story is being illustrated by actors, and that developments in communication have also taken place in the theatre. And thirdly we are aware that what we are watching is a film, another area in which developments in communication have taken place.

The film opens with a dance representing birth. It can be seen as the birth of mankind, and, in the way the dancer communicates through the use of her body, as the birth of human communication, and of theatre. The following sequences illustrate, visually and aurally, the refinement of this process towards communication through language. First we see the human face, which communicates states of mind through its expressions, then we close in on the mouth, and the extraordinary range of sounds it is capable of making. Then comes the addition of vocal sounds, and finally, as the image cuts back to reveal the full-length naked figure, we hear the first word of the film: ‘Human’.

The next sequence follows the development of language, first with a figure clad in a toga reading Latin from a book, illustrating the birth of Western civilisation, the written word, and costume, and then, as letters proliferate wildly on the screen, the arrival of printing. The latter scene is the first with no human figure in it, showing that language has now taken on a life of its own; and the power of this new medium of communication is shown in the next scene: we see a close-up of a text, and, as it is read aloud, drops of blood-red ink fall on the pages, eventually obscuring the words.

So far, other than “Human”, not a word of English has been spoken; we have been looking at forms of communication in relation to their source and raison d’être – the human being – without being distracted by meanings.

The next scene, in which a cabaret hostess welcomes us to the show, marks the beginning of the exposition. We have followed the evolution of language into an important arena of communication: the theatre; in other words, as we sit there watching the performance, into our immediate situation.

The film then takes us through a medley of theatrical entertainment, while at the same time entertaining us with a medley of trick photography. The emphasis in these scenes, in both form and content, is on trickery, illusion, and falseness, showing how, in the world of show business, actors are used to create characters and images which effectively prevent any real person-to-person communication from taking place.

In a scene commenting on cabaret we watch conjuring tricks, while the camera is performing its own conjuring tricks by showing two characters, one shot from a low angle, and one shot from a high angle, simultaneously.

In a scene commenting, perhaps, on psychological drama, we see a young actress, in full-face and profile simultaneously, standing dumbly and nervously as two men, perhaps the director and producer, smother her with advice and instructions. The actress has no voice of her own, she is being manipulated by others, and the only thing which is genuine about the whole scene is the thing they are trying to eliminate; her stagefright.

In a scene commenting on the theatrical performances of statesmen three actors don masks of politicians and act out the kind of hand-shaking routines we see in TV and newspaper pictures. This scene makes two points: it exposes the public image-making of statesmen as a branch of show business, and it shows actors having to act out roles imposed on them by people with political power.

Every now and then during these scenes an actor doing an absurdly exaggerated James Cagney impression walks across the screen saying: “No wonder there are so many casualties.” And every now and then a hand holding a camera reaches down from the top of the screen and takes a photograph of us, the audience in whose name the whole bag of tricks is being performed.

The film’s climax is a sequence in which the cheapest trick in show business, the custard pie in the face, is rendered grotesque and terrifying by being shown in extreme slow motion. We see every detail as the pie flies through the air, hits the actor in the face, and begins to fall away. This is a very long take and its effect is deeply disturbing.

The action which is normally supposed to make us laugh is now seen as a vicious and humiliating assault on an actor whose suffering is all-too apparent. He looks as if he is being injured, and, indeed, psychologically he is. As with the scenes of the exposition we are being asked to question the relationship between actors and ourselves. Who are actors? What is being done to them, and, through them, to us? Why are we sitting watching? And who is controlling it all?

Then suddenly the film cuts to the famous newsreel footage of a Vietnamese peasant being shot through the head. We see more of it than is usually shown on TV: the man falls to the ground and blood fountains from the wound. At the same time there is a scream on the sound-track, and the film jumps out of alignment, as if it is about to break. The effect creates a powerful shock, a shock which should make us think and force us into an awareness of the film’s message.

The meanings are many. The sudden intrusion of a chunk of reality throws into perspective the artificiality of the rest of the film, and, by implication, of all forms of show business. While people, including ourselves, flock to theatres and cinemas to be entertained and distracted by artifice, wholesale slaughter is going on every day in the real world outside.

The fact that the film appears to break, or come adrift from the screen, both adds to the visual shock, and suggests that the medium of film cannot accommodate reality. It also disrupts our attachment to the screen, reminding us that this is no mere cinematic event.

Finally, a parallel is being drawn between the actor being ‘shot’ with the custard pie, and the peasant being shot with a bullet; a parallel which suggests that both men are being manipulated and made to suffer by forces beyond their control

‘Stagefright’ ends with an explicit statement of its message, or at least, part of its message. This is presumably because, being originally made for TV, Jost saw an opportunity for his film to reach a wide audience, large numbers of whom would probably not make head or tail of it.

The message is delivered by the actor doing the exaggerated Cagney impression: a device which reinforces the message by its conspicuousness as a means of holding our attention. The actor, who has already been established in a choric role with his repeated line: “No wonder there are so many casualties”, comes close to the camera, as if taking us into his confidence, and says (approximately):

“You see, to communicate you’ve got to entertain. The great playwrights, like the Greeks, and Shakespeare knew that, but today intellectuals seem afraid of it, as if to entertain was to cheapen, and this leaves the way open for cheap entertainment, I mean entertainment with cheap intentions.

“Those with access to an audience have a tremendous responsibility, which is often abused.

“Everyone wants to be somebody, and in this wonderful world of the theatre they get a chance, but as often as not they betray it to someone else.

“They say theatre holds a mirror up to society, but as often as not it’s a vanity mirror.

“The bard said, ‘All the world’s a stage’, and maybe it is, but what they don’t tell you is that all of life is stage-managed. You got your TV, radio, theatre, films, and pop music; it’s all divertimenti kids, all divertimenti.”

Then the actor, obviously thinking the shot is finished, relaxes, drops characterisation, and takes his hat off. Then Jost walks in front of the camera and speaks to the sound man: “Did you get it?” “Is the camera still rolling?” says the confused-looking sound man. “Are you still filming?”

Then, one by one, Jost turns out the studio lamps and the film ends in darkness. This ending, of course, breaks the cinematic illusion, reminding us that everything we have seen on the screen has also been stage-managed, by Jost himself.

* All quotes, from the films and the interview, are approximations taken from notes made immediately after seeing the films.

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Jon Jost, Independent Film-maker – Introduction

Jon Jost, independent film-maker. The early films

1. Introduction

Jon Jost, director of ‘Sure Fire’ (2002) and ‘All the Vermeers in New York’ (2002), began making films in the early 1960s. His films, which he made independently and on low budgets, demonstrate a creative imagination and seriousness of purpose which have earned him an important place in the history of American independent cinema.

Jost made his first film in 1963 when he was nineteen, and describes himself as

having been: ‘A mixed-up kid, alienated from my family and my culture’.* In 1964 he was arrested for draft-evasion, and subsequently spent 27 months in prison. He says that before going into prison he considered himself an artist, but that prison was ‘a slap in the face’ which gave him the moral right to open his mouth. He emerged no less an artist, but with a strong sense of purpose which gave his work potency and validity as a comment on society.

His purpose was overtly political in some of his early films, his targets being American corporate capitalism, and the American involvement in Vietnam. But the dissemination of propaganda was never his concern, and overt political statement receded into the background as his work progressed. It could be said that politics is part of his radical questioning of our individual and social lives, or that his examination of our lives is part of his politics; either way his definition of what is political is so broad as to be all-inclusive, and therefore, while acknowledging a strong political sub-text to all his work, it seems best to forget the label and concentrate on what the films actually say.

Jost’s output during the period under consideration fell roughly into two stages: from 1963 to 1975, when he made a large number of shorts and the feature ‘Speaking Directly’, and from 1976 to 1983, during which time he focussed almost entirely on feature films. This essay is not intended as a comprehensive account of all of Jost’s films. It is, rather, a selective and personal reading of a large and complex body of work which is open to many levels of interpretation. I intend to pick out some of the predominant themes and methods explored in the early shorts, then go on to examine the first features, hoping to show how the early groundwork provided the foundation from which Jost launched into his fascinating and disturbing portraits of contemporary life.

While it is difficult to generalise about work as varied as Jost’s, it might be said that in the period under consideration three over-riding concerns emerge: To communicate with us through film, to communicate with us about film, and to offer insights into our society and the lives of some of its individuals.

A short scene from ‘1, 2, 3, Four’ (1968-70) serves as a good introduction to Jost’s concern with the possibilities of communication through film:

‘The camera pans from left to right, revealing four people. The first holds a book open in his palms while looking at us. The second offers us a bowl of food. The third lights a flare. The fourth films us with a cine camera.’

Perhaps the first thing to notice is that the scene is not self-explanatory, we have to ‘read’ it, and this is characteristic of all of Jost’s work. We cannot, as we do with conventional films, sit back passively and allow the images to pour their meaning into us; we have to participate, and it is through this active participation that real communication takes place between Jost and each individual member of the audience.

One possible reading of the sequence might be: (1) I have some ideas to communicate to you, (2) I have to put the ideas in concrete form (the girl holds the bowl in the same position as the man holds the book) to give you food for thought, (3) I need a means of attracting your attention before I can communicate, (4) Therefore I have made a film.

So the scene can be read as a statement of intent by Jost; he wants us to know exactly what he is doing, and why. This Brechtian quality is a constant in his work, and serves the purpose of deflecting our attention away from the film and onto the reality of our lives.

It is significant that, with the fourth figure in the sequence, Jost is filming a cine camera filming, as a close examination of what film is, and how it conveys meanings to an audience, is a dominant feature of his early work, and a theme which is explored on its most fundamental level in his short film ‘Traps’ (1967).

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