the al-Gharaniq series

The program:          

These pieces are titled with the arabic word which is often transliterated as "al-Gharaniq" or "al-Gharaneeq." The term is difficult to translate for a variety of reasons, but is generally rendered as "the divine birds" or "cranes." It is an important word within the so-called Satanic verses which Muhammad allegedly recited as belonging to the Qur'an one day and then recanted after consultation with Gabriel the next day. The lines generally reported as being something like:

Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-'Uzza
and Manat, the third, the other?
These are the exalted gharaniq,
whose intercession is hoped for.
For reasons that will become obvious in the next paragraph, the historicity of this event is sharply contested, but I'm not centrally concerned with whether the so-called "Gharaniq incident" ever occurred (if you're curious, the wikipedia entry seems to be a decent start). My interest is in the abstract logical ramifications of such an event if it could be proved real.

Muhammad was trying to establish a new monotheistic belief system in a decidedly polytheistic society. He and his followers were continually in danger as a result of this, and the inclusion of even a small number of verses acknowledging local gods could have had a mollifying effect and perhaps even aided in gaining new converts. It is not hard to imagine a very human urge to include some small effort at placating the local citizenry, but this very humanity is precisely the problem. The Qur'anic verses are supposed to have been delivered by Allah through the messenger angel Gabriel, and surely such political concerns having cropped up in the otherwise starkly monotheistic text renders a divine source questionable. When Muhammad rescinded the verses later (which it must be said, if the event in fact occurred, was an incredibly brave act) he explained away this potential problem by claiming that the verses mentioning the local demigods were in fact given by Satan rather than Gabriel. I find this intriguing, because this solution—while effectively eliminating the problem of apparent human pragmatism in a divine text—seems to create the seemingly much larger problem of diabolical intrusion. What at first seems to be a minor defect—a few stray verses in a massive text—threatens to tear down the entire edifice of the belief system.

Of course, any number of explanations can be and have been made, I just find the abstract magnifying logical implications of this and similar issues in religious systems to be intriguing, and, ultimately, telling. Any belief system claiming ultimate truth must run up against such intellectual hurdles, and I've pursued a similar (though Christian) structure in the piece (THS).

The structure:          

Pieces in this series:          

PortRait of the ArTist,**NYC2001
Solo Cello and Recorded Electronics
Summer '01

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