Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I should go to bed early tonight

I'm very tired. Like malarial, anemic, mono tired. A red-eye to the East Coast, a late flight back, a sixteen-hour day of stress at work broken up by a bag of Sun Chips and a bottle of water, and I am ready to call it a wrap here and hope for the best on the reincarnation wheel.

Everyone's talking about religion these days. We'd like to remind you that we here at the Octopus have been focused on the question for a while now. We have our tentacles on the pulse of the nation. Maybe wrapped around the carotid artery?

I heard once that if you stimulate that jelly bean shaped node just under where your jaw meets your neck you can slow your heart rate down. (In fact, it's true. But you should be careful.) Indeed, I had heard that you could induce fainting by massaging these nodes. Every now and then, before the start of a high school basketball game, or before some early morning standardized test in a huge lecture hall full of fear, I would rub those nodes, and imagine that I could feel myself calming down. Often I combined this with mumbling some surah under my breath several times.

My mom made three little books of surahs for my brothers and me, with the Arabic and the English translations side-by-side on xeroxed sheets she had cut and slipped into what were meant to be small photo albums for 5"x7" pictures. She gave these to us on my recent trip home. I've been too scared to open mine yet. My mom told me to read surah Fatihah at least once a day. She said it was "an especially powerful" surah. She also urged me to go get a check up and check my cholesterol.


Toddy said...

I need to get a check up. I am pushing mid thirties and I haven't had THE PROBE yet. I ought to get that done.
I also have no idea what my cholesterol is like. When I was in high school the doctor said it was really, phenomenally good. I have been banking on those high school numbers for all these years.

I haven't checked in for a while.
Things are going well here at this blog.

Anonymous said...

"especially powerful"?

does it even mean anything?


Octopus Grigori said...

toddy: thanks for checking in!

dn: *yawn*

Anonymous said...

sorry to bore you. I guess if you refuse to tell me what you think it means, there's nothing I can do to stop you.

It means nothing to me, but obviously something to you, and quite a bit to your mom.


Octopus Grigori said...

There's a link to a translation in the post. Here's another.

"Does it even mean anything?" Why does my mom think it's "especially powerful"? Probably because her parents told her that. Often, Muslims who do not speak Arabic will recite prayers in Arabic with only a dim understanding of what the surah means. Not all Muslims learn to read and understand Arabic. But Islam, like other religions, places a talismanic magical value in reciting the Koran and surahs in the original Arabic (which is, according to the Koran the perfect language in which God's word was revealed to Mohammed). Islam seems to be quite concerned with things lost in translation.

In any event, as with the Book of Numbers, the instructions to build the Ark of the Covenant, or the more inexplicable passages in the New Testament, people will import their native and generalized religious feeling to fill the specific vessel of the particular religion into which they are indoctrinated and be filled with religious feeling when reciting words they do not understand, or that have little meaning for them -- or when conducting arbitrary practices dictated by their specific religion (e.g., blowing on a horn, drinking wine, sacrificing a cow, leaning back while eating supper, leaving fruit for ancestors, washing an idol, etc.). The formal act of recitation -- like the formal acts of physical religious practices -- is in effect a spell one casts on one's self -- even where the words carry no specific meaning for the speaker who addresses herself.

Anonymous said...

I had read the translation, and that is what prompted my question.

Thanks for the thoughtful answer, which confirms my initial impression that the words aren't particularly meaningful in and of themselves. In fact, they appear to me to be among the least meaningful in the book (at least as I remember reading it in college).

The kind of voodoo you describe reminds me of the many times as a kid I sat in temple and was asked to recite prayers in Hebrew while not having the first damn clue what I was saying. I believe that to be a pretty dopey practice, whether it is performed in Hebrew, Arabic, or Sanskrit.