Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Related, not the same.

LHL has a good post, as usual, over on her blog about how most of the public discourse around Islam deals with it as if the Christian paradigm were the real religious form and you just have to change a few names and then you have Islam. Like LHL I try to share what I know about the religion so that people don't have these weird-ass ideas about Islam. And let me tell you how much some people don't get it.

First, the Sunni-Shi'a split. No people, it isn't Protestants and Catholics. It would be better to consider it closer to the Catholic-Orthodox split, though that is, of course, not exactly the same. Then there are things like the Ismailis, which don't have any Christian equivalent at all. The Ismailis are my favorite from a theological viewpoint. But I find them interesting not only because of their theology, but because of the history behind them. This is the group that the term assassin came from. Not all of them, but a smaller sect from around 1000-1100 or so.

This is another one of those stories that you hear told wrong all the time. The general myth in the west, especially here in the bay area with all our pot heads, is that the name assassin came from the fact that they would eat hash and thus in Arabic would be called hashshashim, roughly translated to "druggies." That's a bunch of nonsense. There is no doubt that back around a millennium ago these folks were highly feared and did indeed assassinate people. But, the drug stuff is a bunch of propaganda made up by their enemies. It's not too unreasonable to understand why the accusations of drugs might have stuck given that often times those from this sect who carried out killings essentially knew they would die; a kind of tenth century suicide bomber, but with a knife instead of a bomb. And what happened is that they were so fearless that people believed that they were on drugs.

Well, that was a pointless but fun ramble.

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