Wednesday, October 05, 2016

May I ask what your religion is?

After a moment's silence she said: "You're a nice boy. May I ask what your religion is?" I looked at her and told her, "I'm forty years old, Grandma. I have lived a very difficult life. I have known many nice people in my life and my best friends have different religions and when I'm with one of them I feel I share with them the same religion".
That extract is from Samuel Shimon's autobiographical novel An Iraqi In Paris. The sentiment it expresses is shared by John Tavener's syncretic Requiem which uses texts from the Catholic Mass, the Qur'an, Sufi poetry and the Hindu epics to extol the gnostic viewpoint that, to quote the composer, although "the different religious traditions are often in conflict with each other... inwardly every religion is the doctrine of the self and its earthly manifestations". Writing about the Requiem in 2011 I described the final movement Ananda, which is a pulsating arch built around the words "I am that - I am God" sung in Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek and Arabic, as a thing of both great beauty and truth. John Tavener was a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the photo of the Church of Agios Andonis at Kato Zakros in eastern Crete was taken by me a few days ago.

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2 comments:

Pliable said...

It is worth repeating here the codicil to my 2011 post about John Tavener's Requiem.

No commercial recording is available of John Tavener's setting of the 99 Names for Allah from the Qu’ran The Beautiful Names, and I am told there are no plans to issue one. BBC Radio 3 broadcast the premiere from Westminster Abbey so a high quality recording exists. Surely an enterprising record company (are there any left?) can license the BBC master just as EMI did with his Requiem? It would make a welcome change from yet another Mahler symphony.

billoo said...

Very interesting, pli. The mention of the words, 'An Iraqi in Paris' immediately brought to mind two things.

Firstly:

His name was
Mohamed Sceab

Descendant
of emirs of nomadic tribes
took his own life
because he had lost
his Homeland

Loved France
and changed his name

Was Marcel
but wasn't French
had forgot how
to simply live
sipping a coffee
in the tent of his people
where the little singsong
of the Koran is chanted

And didn't know how to
give
his separateness
a voice

I went along with the concierge
from the hotel where we lived
in Paris
following his body
down the dingy alleyway
from number 5 rue des Carmes

His remains
rest
in the cemetery at Ivry
dolorous suburb
that always brings to mind
the day
a fairground comes down

It may be I alone
still know
he was once alive

Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970): In Memoria, 30 September 1916, from ll porto sepolto, 1916; English by Tom Clark

and, secondly:

Combine Arabic faith, Jewish intelligence, Iraqi education, Christian conduct, Greek knowledge, Indian mysticism and the Sufi way of life - this would be the perfection of humanity.
---The Brethren of Purity