Background

Playwright’s thoughts

1.  Kabbalah, the centerpiece of Jewish mysticism, in the 3rd or 4th Century CE prophesized that there would be a New Adam, a new spiritual evolution in humanity. In the Sufi literature, Islamic mysticism, the Ibis is a sacred bird that soars to God. These two are central to the play.

2.  The three main characters of the play — Joachim Ben Israel, the Caliph Ahmed, and Sa’ida — each have their own intense spiritual visions and strivings, benevolent and inclusive of others, for a harmonious society and a greater spiritual evolution in individuals.

3.  While there are societal forces that counter their visions, particularly fundamentalist attitudes, it is their own personal flaws that ultimately destroy their efforts.

4.  For Joachim, it is his paranoid attitudes and meglomania; for the Caliph Ahmed, it is his desperate need for immortality before he dies; and for Sa’ida, it is her intense need to reach transcendent states while ignoring her physical infirmities.

5.  Relevance of the play for today: Fundamentalist attitudes toward reality, paranoid attitudes of needing enemies, meglomania of feeling one’s group is the ultimate, and putting one’s needs especially for power before anything else are key elements that undermine the social fabric.

– Alan Roland

History

  1. Umayyad Caliphate founded in Damascus in 661 CE.
  2. The Caliphate gradually encompasses the entire Islamic world from Persia to Spain.
  3. Umayyad Caliphate overthrown by the Abassids from Baghdad in 750 CE, who moved their capital to Baghdad.
  4. Abd-ar-Rahman I, the only survivor of the Umayyads, flees from Damascus to Spain where he establishes an Umayyad Emirate or kingdom in 756.
  5. The Umayyad Emirate conquers most of Spain and pushes into France where it is finally repulsed by Charles Martel.
  6. In 929 CE, Abd-ar-Rahman III changes the Umayyad Emirate to the Umayyad Caliphate in rivalry with the Abassid Caliphate in Baghdad and the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt.
  7. The Umayyad Caliphate was by far the most advanced culture in Europe, drawing upon the great heritage of the ancient world: Biblical, Greco-Roman, and Byzantine. It was noted for its spiritual culture, philosophy, literature, science, and architecture.
  8. It was also known for its remarkable interfaith harmony among Muslims, Jews, and Christians for almost three centuries.
  9. The Jews played a major role in the Caliphate, participating fully in its cultural life, being involved in flourishing trade with other countries, and with spreading its culture into Europe, greatly enhancing the intellectual development of medieval Europe. Their literature and poetry reached the heights not seen since Biblical times. It is called, “The Golden Age of the Jews.”
  10. Kabbalah, the centerpiece of Jewish mysticism, in the 3rd or 4th Century CE prophesized that there would be a New Adam, a new spiritual evolution in humanity. In the Sufi literature, Islamic mysticism, the Ibis is a sacred bird that soars to God.
  11. In 1031 the Caliphate succumbed to internal dissension and became greatly weakened. Shortly after, in 1040 it was conquered by a fundamentalist Moroccan Muslim kingdom, the Almoravids, who in turn were later conquered in 1147 by another fundamentalist Moroccan Muslim kingdom, the Almohads.
  12. These kingdoms resulted in a severe decline in the rich cultural heritage and the remarkable interfaith harmony of the Umayyad Caliphate. This culminated in the Christian Reconquest of Cordoba in 1236 and the Inquisition.

“The sharp edge of the razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”

– Katha Upanishad

Glossary

Abassids: Claiming to be descendents of Mohammed’s uncle, the Abassids defeated the Umayyads in 750 CE in Damascus, declared themselves to be Caliph, and moved the capital of the Caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad.

Caliph: Head of the state and enforcer of rules and laws of Islam.

Caliphate: The Caliph’s state, whether the size of a kingdom or that of an empire.

Fatimids: A group in Egypt who assumed the role of the Caliph based on their claiming to be descended from Mohammed’s daughter.

Umayyads: An elite clan from the same tribe in Mecca as Mohammed. They moved to Damascus where they assumed the role of Caliph in 661. They gradually ruled over a vast Caliphate stretching from Persia through the Middle East and North Africa to Spain and Morocco. They were overthrown by the Abassids from Mecca in 750, and one of their only surviving members escaped to Spain in 756 to form his own state. By 929, one of the Umayyad scions assumed the role of Caliph.

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