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In the Name of God بسم الله
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Anna Pavlovna's tea party


Haji 2003

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This story is about a tea party, but actually it isn't about the party.

It isn't about the party that Anna Pavlovna holds, the one that many people know about but about whose subsequent events they remain unfamiliar. In fact if I wanted to I could try really hard and remind myself of the time I attended, but as I said that's not really the purpose of this story.

You see Sakina many people arrive at Anna Pavlovna's party with high hopes and expectations. They have a self-image of their literary prowess and they want to be able to tell everyone else that not only did they attend but that they experienced everything else that happened afterwards as well.

I was a bit like that to be honest. The first time I went I was about your age. I'd heard a lot about Anna Pavlovna's world and I wanted to be able to casually mention to friends and associates that I'd been. And so I would try so very very hard to get to know the attendees and to be honest it was impossible. I made many attempts and never got further than the entrance to the party itself.

So I tried a different tack.

I'd try less hard.

Instead of trying to get as far into this world as I could and meet as many people as I could, as quickly as I could, I would take the opposite approach.

I would only spend so much time at the party and I would stop, no matter how engaging the characters and no matter how interesting the stories that they had to tell.

And the next day I would come back to where I had left off and the people and the stories would still be there and slowly but surely I'd have the impetus to find out a little more about them and the following day a little bit more and so on.

In fact their lives became a little soap opera for me that went on for over a year and that's how I finished War & Peace.

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         0 comments
      An excerpt from my book (From Earth to Heaven...by Mahdieh Mahdavi)
      Narrated by Solmaz Rezayi
       
       
      By the fig*
      And by the olive
      And by Mount Sinai
      You have certainly created me in the best of stature.
       
                                 *********

      Angels told you: "Don't create Human.It will cause corruption in the world".
      But I had not still been born so how could they prejudge me?!
      Despite the complaints, you were determined and therefore, I was born.
      "Peace be upon me on the day I was born, on the day I die, and on the day I shall be raised alive!"
       
       
      You put me in a very great cradle. It was extremely white and bright and Holy Spirit rocked it with his fingertip. I was filled with delight and embraced by light.
      Angels all came to see me. They were amazed that I was born without parents!
      But you kept silent and then I talked in the cradle. Suddenly, they uttered a loud exclamation of surprise.
      And you, pleased with you work, said:
      "So blessed is Allah, the best of creators".
      How beautiful lovely those days were! Alas, how quickly they went by!
      I had told you about my sad memories in exile; about the day when you banished me from your heavens and I was separated from you.
      I had told you about my battles against my ownself. Everytime I fought myself, the pillars of Satan's palace started shaking. And I could hear its sound and Satan's wrathful shout.
      Ah, what a time it was! I have many things to tell you. For narrating my memories, I need a long time, as long as the history of mankind!
      Footnotes:
      * Fig tree is very strong and resistant. It can grow in nutritionally poor soils and needs little water.
      It has a high tolerance of bad situations. It can tolerate droughts, and grow in dry sunny areas and still remain productive.
      When it recieves enough water, it cools the environment in hot places, creating a fresh and pleasant habitat for many animals that take shelter in its shade in the times of intense heat.

         0 comments
      An excerpt from my book (From Earth to Heaven by Mahdieh Mahdavi)
      Narrated by Solmaz Rezayi
      Background music by Guy Sweens
       
      Left alone in the dark desert of ignorance,
      With wings, one broken by greed the other by arrogance,
      Do you wish for deliverance?
      The gates of the heavens are always open to you,
      You just need two restored wings, strong enough and new.
      O you lost in the complete dark,
      You could be Noah, the owner of the salvation Ark,
      The mountains and the birds will sing praises with you*,
      Just get up and create two wings for yourself, strong enough and new.
       
      *surah34/v.10

      ای رها شده در بیابان ظلمت و تنهایی
      بالی شکسته ز شدت کبر
      بالی شکسته ز فرط آزمندی
      دروازه های آسمان همواره به رویت باز
      برخیز و بالهایت را ز نو بساز
      ای ماه بی پناه افتاده در اعماق چاه
      ای کودک سپرده به امواج رود نیل
      لحظه ای گمگشته در برهوت
      لحظه ای گرفتار در دل حوت
      خسته و بیتاب, نالان و پریشان در پی آب

      کوه ها و پرندگان با تو هم آواز
      برخیز و بالهایت را ز نو بساز



         1 comment
      Originally posted here: https://www.iqraonline.net/repulsing-the-basis-of-moral-vices/
      There are numerous ways to encourage one’s self to behave ethically. Scholars of all religions and ideologies have debated and offered different analyses on why people should behave ethically and how they can eliminate moral vices from their actions. For example, some argue people should act ethically because society appreciates and praises such behaviour, which eventually leads to worldly benefits. Speaking the truth is good because people will trust you more, it will give you a good reputation in society, it will increase your business sales. If you are known as a liar, not only will society not trust you, you will hurt your reputation and your business will not make any money.
      Some others argue one should act ethically and abstain from vices as this will result in benefits in the Hereafter. If you are patient in this world and endure its hardships, you will receive your reward in heaven. If you are generous in this world and spend from your money to help people, you will be given innumerable reward in heaven. This does not necessarily have anything to do with what people will think or say about you or what worldly benefits you will attain by acting ethically.
      Despite many other proposed reasons for why one should act ethically, according to ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī, the Qurān offers a reason no other book – not even the previous Divine Books – offer. He says, through the Qurān:
      “Man is trained in character and knowledge, and the knowledge is used in a way that does not leave room for the very basis of vices. In other words, this system removes the vile characteristics, not by eliminating them, but by repulsing all motives other than Allah.”
      The Qurān says [10:65] Indeed, honour belongs to Allah entirely; and [2:165] All power belongs to Allah. Why does one do any action for other than Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى)? It is because man is either seeking honour and power, or they fear someone else’s honour and power. Both become a basis from which moral vices emanate. However, if we were to truly understand and act on the meanings of these two verses, there would be no basis, no foundation, from which moral vices could originate.
      What would be the source of someone’s riyā’ (ostentation and showing-off)? Riyā’ is when one shows off to gain something for themselves or out of fear of what others might say about them if they do not see them behaving in a certain way. Would there be any basis left for committing this moral vice when one recognizes that all power and honour belongs to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) – who would one fear other than Allah and what honour would one seek through showing-off when all of it belongs to Him alone? Others do not have anything to give to us for us to show off to them in the hopes of receiving something.
      What would be the source of stinginess? One is stingy when they do not want to give that which they believe is their own, in a situation where they should be generous. This is because they believe spending from their wealth will cause a dent in their power, authority and honour. Would there be any basis of being stingy when one recognizes all power belongs to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) and He (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) is the Owner of all things? One does not own anything in reality for them to believe spending from it will result in a deficiency or loss.
      Such is the case with the rest of the moral vices. Essentially this is nothing but a different way of rendering the Tawḥīdī worldview. Thus, the Qurān does not fundamentally tell humans to behave ethically by telling them about the worldly benefits that will be achieved or the rewards of the Hereafter – a method which generally results in the selective elimination of certain vices after one has already attained them. Instead, the Qurān primarily trains humans to repulse away the very basis from where absolutely any moral vice could originate.
      قَالَ عَلِيُّ بْنُ الْحُسَيْنِ ع لَوْ مَاتَ مَنْ بَيْنَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَ الْمَغْرِبِ لَمَا اسْتَوْحَشْتُ بَعْدَ أَنْ يَكُونَ الْقُرْآنُ مَعِي
       Imam Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (a) said: I will have no fear or anxiety even if everyone between the East and West were to die, as long as the Qurān is with me.
         9 comments
      [amended 19 August 2023 to include references to the Irish potato famine and two Bengal famines]

      Image taken at the Egyptian Museum, Tahrir Sq. Cairo June 2024
      Surah Yusuf
      Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) advised Pharoah to hoard grains during the years of plenty. I think this episode is a noteworthy one because it shows how a State can intervene in the marketplace in order to improve the welfare of the wider population.
      But as we shall see below, the government intervention that Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) instigated favoured some sections of the population over others - it was not neutral in terms of how it spread gains and losses across the population.
      https://www.al-islam.org/sites/default/files/singles/633-yusuf.pdf
      While there is other material in the Qur'an that deals with transactions within the marketplace between individual participants - this story stands out in terms of its focus on state intervention. 
      I'll be coming back to this issue later - but I think it informs the discussions we have about Islam and contemporary socio-economic theories. In particular, I think it illustrates that Islam does see the State as an active market participant and that in an Islamic state, the role of government is not one that is hands-off or laissez-faire.
       
      What policy options did Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) have?
      We should not take the story as presented 'for granted'. In reality, the Prophet (عليه السلام). had a range of choices open to him, and thinking those through helps us better understand the reasons for the policy he undertook and the reason why. 
      No government interference
      Let's start with the simplest and easiest option that Pharoah's government could have pursued once they knew that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (as predicted by the Pharoah's dream which was interpreted by Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام).) .
      Pharoah could have left the entire issue to the 'market'. During the years of plenty, the price of food would have fallen and people would have enjoyed a higher standard of living. For example, the lower grain prices could have led to people rearing more cattle and their diets would have improved with more meat.
      However, during the years of famine, grain prices would have risen and those people who had accumulated assets in the years of plenty would be able to pay the higher prices in the famine years. Those who had not had such assets would have starved.
      This assumes a fairly high level of self-discipline on the part of the population, but as Milton Friedman would say, the people would have been 'free to choose'. This is not a hypothetical option. The British lack of action to the Irish potato famine has been attributed to the British government's ideological adherence to a laissez-faire approach to macro-economics:
      https://kenanfellows.org/kfp-cp-sites/cp01/cp01/sites/kfp-cp-sites.localhost.com.cp01/files/LP3_BBC Irish Famine Article for Lab.pdf
       
      The Bengal famine is another one where government policy was different to the one Prophet Yusuf ((عليه السلام).) prescribed to Pharoah. In this instance, it was lack of government restriction over the action of privateers:
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/29/winston-churchill-policies-contributed-to-1943-bengal-famine-study
       
      Going back still further, the Great Bengal Famine of 1770 has been directly attributed to British government laissez-faire economic policy.
      https://worldfinancialreview.com/the-political-economy-of-famines-during-the-british-rule-in-india-a-critical-analysis/
       
      Light interference - provision of information
      A common policy option nowadays, where people do not want direct government intervention is to recommend improving the provision of information to the population who will then be better able to make the correct decisions for themselves. The government could have mounted an information campaign during the years of plenty and told people to hoard food themselves, hoarding when there is no shortage is allowed in Islam.
      However such attempts to influence awareness about the famine to come and changing peoples' attitudes so that they saved more than they were used to, would likely have run against increased social pressures on people to do the opposite. For example typically in societies as wealth increases there is social pressure to spend more, in this case, for example, have more lavish weddings.
      Also providing information would have been a practical benefit for the better off e.g. those with storage capacity, but not so good for the poor (who would not have room to store grain, for example).
      The government (using a bit more intervention) could have given tax breaks to people who owned granaries, to help the poor who needed such facilities. Again this solution would be to focus on market-based interventions and simply alter the working of the market using incentives. Current economic theory holds that people discount future risks very heavily i.e. they don't perceive them as much of a threat as they should. So, for example, just telling people they should save for a pension does not work. 
      So we can likely predict that the solutions described above would not have worked had they tried them.
      Heavy interference
      This is what they actually did.
      In times of plenty, Pharoah's government did not let prices fall as would have happened under free market conditions. They kept prices higher than they otherwise would have been because the government intervened and took excess stocks of grain out of circulation.
      All people (rich and poor alike) had no option but to pay the usual higher prices - effectively, the government was taxing everyone, but this was not seen as a loss by anyone because the prices were no higher than usual.
      The government stored the grain centrally and then they decided to release the grain according to their own policies.
      Assumptions made by Prophet Yusuf's government
      If you leave people to their own devices they may not make the best decisions (whether they are rich or poor), this could be due to: People do not have the resources to cater for future shocks (mainly the poor) People do not have the discipline to address future shocks (applies to both the rich and the poor) The government can make better decisions than individuals acting in their own self-interest because: The government can have access to more and better information than individuals do The government may not be as susceptible to a lack of self-discipline  
      Conclusion
      Of all the policy options open to Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) he advised Pharoah to pursue the most interventionist one. Some people may be tempted to call this socialist or communist, but I think those terms carry a lot of excess baggage, so I won't bring them into the discussion.
      What I think can be safely inferred from his choice of policy is a fundamental principle that could inform economic policy in any Islamic state.
      Facing an external shock to the Egyptian economy, he went for the option that would cause the least pain to the worst off in society. Other policy options would have caused more pain for the poorest but somewhat less for the better off.
       
       
         1 comment
      Edited 1st July 2024 to improve clarity.
       
      Summary
      Just because something is not created via the scientific method, does not mean it can't be useful - implications about how we think about religious precepts.
      Serendipity (pot luck)
      I have previously noted how, in some fields of human endeavour, the scientific approach is held to be the ideal. In reality however human scientific and technological discoveries have often been the result of luck and even mistakes.
      Social science 'theories'
      There is a corollary in the field of the social sciences which also emphasise the value of the scientific approach to generate knowledge. In this domain the anomalies are various frameworks and models that are widely taught and even used, but which have no basis in rigorous scientific research.
      The famous work by Abraham Maslow on motivation and his resulting 'hierarchy of needs' is very widely studied and used. He posits that human motivation at the fundamental level is driven by physiological needs, and once these are satisfied (he did qualify this in later works) people try and address safety needs and then, social needs and self-esteem and finally self-actualisation. 
      But Maslow did not come up with this through any research that would hold up to scientific scrutiny.
      Does the lack of a scientific approach invalidate a model or framework?
      Yet the Maslow hierarchy is productively used by professionals in a variety of industries, managers, MBA students and others in universities. For example, people use it to understand why consumers buy certain products.
      The same issue applies to Bloom's taxonomy in the field of learning and also Elmo's buying funnel in the area of marketing. The three laws of robotics have their basis in science fiction and in the area of web searching there is no scientific basis for the information-navigational-transactional categories that are used.
      Face validity
      The implication from this is that while ideas and knowledge may ideally be the result of the scientific approach I.e. hypothesising and then testing, there are many instances where this is not the case. In the area of the social sciences and management the value of some types of knowledge seems to rest on their 'face validity', do they make sense to practitioners? Can those individuals make better sense of their external environment as a result of using these tools and if they can, that is good enough?
      Implications for religion
      The same principle could surely apply to various aspects of religion. There may be no scientific proof underpinning various religious ideas, but if they have face validity, if they help the individual make sense of their external environment and manage it, surely that is good enough?
         0 comments
      Both ancient Egyptian queens and both with a seemingly new cult in the 21st century.
      Obviously the cult is not amnongst actual worshippers but amongst tourists keen to see their monuments. Nefertari was the favourite wife of Pharaoh Ramesses II and as for Hatshepsut this is what Wikipedia has to say:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatshepsut
      While I have been in Luxor this year with the family the itinerary for touring came up and I suggested to the guide that may be the Hatshepsut temple was a bit overrated (based on my last visit in 2016), but he insisted and so we went. As I remembered it's a golf buggy ride from the entrance to the foot of a long flight of steps and when you get to the top - not really a great deal and a fair bit is seemingly reconstructed. I still think it is overrated. I'd much rather spend more time in the riot of hieroglyphics and colour that is the Madinet Habu (from Wiki):
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medinet_Habu
       
      As for Nefertari the guide and the local Egyptians felt that it was overrated particularly in light of the US$60 (!!!) entrance fee. This is a few times the going rate and such is the demand that you get 10 mins in the tomb.
      So going back to my earlier contention - what's the cult?
      It's the contemporary interest in women's empowerment, their positions in leadership roles and so on. I am not challenging the validity of the interest. I am just drawing attention to how the interest manifests itself in tourists making choices about what to see, how much they pay to see it and how much effort they put into doing so.
         0 comments
      "Indeed Allah taught me and He taught me well"*
      *"ان الله ادبنی فاحسن تادیبی"

      During these thousands of years, God tested me frequently until I got permission to return to Him.
      Now, I am going to fly; but how can I do it without my wings?
      Everytime I committed a sin, I lost one of my feathers. I must find the feathers and restore my wings.
      I found a feather at the foot of the Rocky Mount and another feather in a rivulet, floating in the water. One feather was close to the Mirror of Truth and many feathers were around the Square House.
      I am going to fly towards paradise... Towards paradise?!... No!...Somewhere higher...much higher than paradise!
      Somewhere that even Gabriel cannot go...I need to create two wings stronger than Gabriel's.
      I am going to fly to Qab-e Qawsain...To Qab-e Qawsain and maybe closer**
       
      The final part of my book, "From Earth to Heaven" (Az Khāk ta Aflāk)
      Footnotes:
      * a narration from the prophet (s)
      ** surah Najm: 8. Then he came near, and hovered around. 9. He was within two bows’ length, or closer.
      *********
      «به هنگام بامداد آماده باش! بامدادان از کوه سنگی بالا آمده، نزد من آنجا بر قله‌ی آن کوه بایست[1]. تنها بیا و آن دو امانتی را که به تو سپرده بودم، همراه خودت بیاور». این پیام پروردگارم بود که بر من الهام شد. باید خود را برای بی‌نظیرترین رخداد معنوی تاریخ جهان آماده میکردم!
      راستی، آن دو امانت چه بودند؟!
      ********
      کاروانی از ملائک تا به عرش       
      ردشان کرده فلک را نقش نقش
      میزبان بی نظیری شد بهشت         
      از برای مردمان خوش سرشت
      تا بیاید بهر دیدار خدا                  
      کرد روح خویش را از تن جدا
      قید‌ها و بند‌ها را باز کرد              
      تا به اوج آسمان پرواز کرد
      ****
      اینک از منازل تاریک و ظلمانی نفس عبور کرده و از خود به سوی خدا مهاجرت می‌کنم...
      ***
      ان الله ادبنی فاحسن تأدیبی؛ خداوند مرا تربیت نمود و چه نیکو تربیت نمود!
      در این چند هزار سال پروردگار مرا به اموری فراوان امتحان فرمود تا اینکه سرانجام توانستم جواز عروج به سوی او را اخذ کنم. آیا رخداد خوشی که بهار خبرش را به من داده بود، همین نبود؟
      اینک عزم پرواز دارم ولی پرنده که بدون بال نمی‌تواند پرواز کند حتی اگر درِ قفس برایش گشوده باشد. سالهای سال زحمت کشیدم تا توانستم میله‌های قفس را بشکنم ولی اینک می‌بینم که اصلا بالی ندارم که بتوانم پرواز کنم. باید چاره‌ای اندیشید. برای بازگشت به موطنم باید به سوی آسمان پرواز کنم. باید بالهایم را پیدا کنم.
      هر بار که گناهی می‌کردم پری از بالهایم جدا می‌شد. باید پرها را پیدا کنم تا بتوانم بالهایم را بسازم. پری را در پای کوه سنگی یافتم و پری را در جویباری، روان بر روی آب. پری را در کنار آینه حقیقت و پرهای بسیاری را پیرامون خانه چهارگوش.
      میخواهم به سوی بهشت پرواز کنم... به سوی بهشت؟! نه! نه! به جایی بالاتر، خیلی بالاتر... جایی که حتی جبرئیل هم نمی‌تواند به آن راه یابد. باید بالهایم را قدرتمندتر از بالهای جبرئیل بسازم... می‌خواهم به سوی قاب قوسین پرواز کنم... به سوی قاب قوسین و شاید هم نزدیکتر!
      پایان
       
        [1] _ «به هنگام بامداد آماده باش. بامدادان از کوه سینا بالا آمده، نزد من آنجا بر قله‌ی آن کوه بایست» (عهد عتیق، سِفر خروج).
      [2] ثم دنی فتدلی. فکان قاب قوسین أو أدنی (سوره نجم، آیات 8 و 9).
      -----------------------------
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