Jahannam and Ge Hinnom

JahanamThe Tailor was selling his wares in the lands north of the city. These areas are populated by tribes of militant apostates.

A group of these northern people were discussing Islam’s notion of hell. One of their number said the following: “For me, one of the hardest things to get over was the fact that I might spend eternity in a skin-melting, 70-tier fire pit, filled with unbelievers and sinners. What an awful thing to torment little kids with. In fifth grade, I had horrible night terrors where I would wake up mortified of the idea of hell.

“Now, I just found out that the word Jahannam occurs in the New Testament’s Aramaic as Gehenna, which in turn is a rendering of the Hebrew Ge Hinnom. In the New Testament it refers to a hellfire very similar to that described in the Qur’an. But, following the Torah, we see that Ge Hinnom, literally the Valley of Hinnom, is an actual geographical location, that still exists by the same name outside the southern gate of old Jerusalem!

It is an actual place in Jerusalem. It’s pretty amazing how that was directly ripped off the Old and New testament. What’s even more amazing, is that almost every Muslim, Christian, Jew that I have talked to does not know about this.”

The apostates had much fun and mockery at the expense of this realisation: accusing the Prophet (astagfirullah) of all kinds of crimes, from plagiarism to “mishearing” or misunderstanding the Christians and Jews around him and transcribing the term into an Arabic rendition, ignorant of its origin.

After their mockery had died down, the Tailor came out to them from his caravan and replied as follows:

You have partially uncovered a treasure that has been concealed and buried by someone who loves you and cares for you, an inheritance of wisdom shared between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, a hyper-Temporal trace of Truth encoded within the derivation of the word for hellfire.

There is no corruption present within the derivation you stated: Jahannam is indeed identical to Ge Hinnom. Contrary to popular Islamic theological opinion, the Tanakh and Gospels are not a corrupted word of God, cleansed or factually corrected by the Qur’an. The succession is of a different nature to correction. The succession is simply one of revelation. The problem addressed at the moment of Qur’anic revelation was, and is, one of “concealment”: at the time, there was a tafsir and a wisdom that the religious authorities possessed, but concealed. A wealth that was not spent freely.

Verily, those who conceal the clear proofs, evidence and guidance, which We have sent down, after We have made it clear for the people in the Book, they are the ones cursed by Allah and cursed by the cursers.

Except those who repent and do righteous deeds, and openly declare (the truth which they concealed). These, I will accept their repentance. And I am the One Who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful. (Qur’an 2:159-160)

But that verse now applies to us: for we are also people of the Book. Within less than one generation of the beginning of Islam, the same situation (necessarily) occurred, and now there are the poor and there are a minority of wealthy folk who also horde their wealth and conceal the True Meaning from the rest of humanity.

But you, apostate though you may be, are close to your inheritance. May it be openly declared, and soon!

There are a great many other instances of Judaic tropes used throughout the Qur’an — and the Qur’an itself addresses their usage. Of course this should be the case: given the Author is the same! But still the authorities conceal. Like the Christianity of the middle ages, the authorities insist that any investigation or admission of these tropes are a no-go area, thus keeping a self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance from which the only escape (if you desire escape) is to become a misery hoarder (I’m guilty of this to an extent) or an apostate such as yourself. Because such a study is absolutely central to understanding the Qur’an: no can fully understand the Qur’an without having at least read the Tanakh first. For amongst other things, the Qur’an is a Divine meta-commentary upon (historically) preceding holy books.

I can see that you — as apostates, angry at some perceived deceit leveled at you — are letting off steam because you have encountered a clear lineage of terminology that has been kept from you.

But no one amongst you has yet dug deeper and asked the question — why is Jahannam actually the Valley of Hinnom? It is because it was a garbage dump, located below the southern wall of ancient Jerusalem. Jerusalem (the Real one, not the Imaginary one you find on your atlas) is the city of peace — it is the same city as Medina (when rocked and rolled).

As a collective movement of souls going through life, we accumulate a lot of baggage and garbage in our lives — some really evil stuff (a random look at today’s news will convince you) — and other more minor (for example, garbage that you guys collected during your Muslim days listening to ignorant hutbas). At the garbage dump of outside the southern wall of your city, you can burn that garbage.

None of you have committed murder nor operated a pedophile ring. Nothing truly abominable. So the evil you have picked up — a lot of it I am sure comes from your sheikhs. All that ignorance you are now reflecting upon. But what are you to do with this ignorance? You have erected nomadic encampments in the northern lands, encampments of apostasy, and are burning it, perhaps to clean your souls of that ignorance. By setting fire to those ideas (with just as much ferocity as the Qur’an itself describes that burning!). Your apostasy is a garbage dump, literally.

So you are all fulfilling the Prophetic unfolding, unconsciously.

Nevertheless, there is one point to remember. What city does Islam reside in? Not some Islamist Michael Jackson Neverland, destroyed by scandal, drugs and debt (apparently the Muslims are now saying he converted before he died). May you reside in a city of peace! And your garbage dump should then be situated at the southern gate.

Here: take this compass of symbolic functions to find your way through the city, if you choose to return:

A compass for the city
A compass for the city

The east that from which the Light of Prophecy emerges. The west is the Bride of language, perception, human representation. The North is Judgement, Logic and Deen. Judgement is fire: you are all burning here, you northern people, burning in your doubt and apostasy. But you may move south anon. For you would normally situate a garbage dump in the North, because the South signifies God’s Love and Mercy. Surely a garbage dump should situated north, to face completely the fires of Judgement.

No, if you construct your own Jerusalem (as I hope you are doing right now) — or build one as a swarm of bees for an ummah — then be sure to place your garbage dump — for example, locate this blog (wink wink) — close to Love, not to Judgement and Belief. This way Mercy will outweigh Judgement. And throw out your garbage, discard your loads of Islamism into those fires, so your Collective Soul may become illuminated, and abide within that city in peace and balance.

There are dangers inherent in the South, dangers in the Waters of Love: these can lead to unspeakable forms of idolatry (see, for example, Jeremiah 2:23 for what has taken place in that valley). Dhul Qarnain navigated this map, as have others, to walk on water. But again, this is achieved by the Law and Judgement follows southwards: fire crowns water and water crowns fire, though water outweighs fire.

This is not an instruction, even though I phrased it that way. It is a statement of inevitability, because this is happening all the time in your lives — this blog, the (real) discussion upon which it was based, my Tailor character, these imaginary apostates here and you, dear reader, are just a part of this process of distillation. May it produce a fine wine.

At the end of days, the detritus of the collective soul is burnt away outside the southern gates of the city of peace. May you then abide in the city, adorned in Robes of Light, speaking only perfect speech, with your loved ones on couches in gardens beneath which the rivers flow.


3 thoughts on “Jahannam and Ge Hinnom

  1. I like your subtle interpretations, Musa. But I think you don’t have much hope of pitching your model of the four gated city to those who have rejected eternal hell-fire as a frightening story for children.

    Look at it this way. For the people of the post-Classical age, there wasn’t the clear demarcation of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ we feel today. What we experience as inner states: happiness, depression, anxiety, inspiration, were lived by them in the world outside, the products of alignments of stars, humours, spirits and other external forces. The Greeks and Romans, for instance, had some notion of melancholia as an inner state, but as Classical civilization waned, humanity reverted to a ‘participated’ consciousness; one where the inner life was turned outwards.

    Today, the idea of ‘Hell’ – Jahannam, Gehenna, whatever one wants to call it – implies an improbable ‘crossing over’ of the outer into the inner world. For us to be burned eternally would imply the ‘physicalisation’ of the imaginal world: the recreation there of forces such as fire which belong to the material world. More problematic still, this experience would require the recreation of a physical body to experience this torment. Yet a body that is not destroyed by it, thus defying the nature of fire. This image even goes against our experience of the imaginal world, for we may dream of being burned – but we know that we do not thereby experience the real agonies of burning.

    However, unlike our ancestors of a thousand years ago or more, we can conceive of a ‘Hell’ made up solely of internal experience. We talk, for instance, of the ‘hell of depression’: how a person can be trapped within a state of mind where everything seems to be pointing a finger at how worthless, guitly, wrong they are. Even the most hardened materialist can – with a stretch of the imagination – conceive of how, at the moment of death, what we experience as time could dilate into a sense of timelessness, trapping us in a veritable hell of an eternal darkness.

    These ancient religious symbols – for instance, the image of Ge Hinnom as a model for the Divine retribution – spoke to an ‘inside out’ consciousness, a consciousness that had no language, no conceptualisation of states of being that weren’t ‘out there’. But this is exactly what ‘modern’ people cannot and will not accept: there is no God out there, not Heaven and Hell out there, no garden and no fire to be found in a corporeal existence. What were once symbols – images that represented realities – have become worn out signs – images that substitute for realities. And there is no way to reverse this process. The evolution of humanity cannot proceed by reverting to a previous way of being.

    What is hopeful is that we are – with the help of both mysticism and neuroscience – coming to realise that actually there is no ‘out there’: what we experience as a ‘world’ is a representation within ourselves. The nature of symbolism (and, indeed, language in the broadest sense) is reversed in this experience. What appears to happen to us ‘out there’ is symbolic of our internal states, rather than our internal states being symbolic of what happens outside. Our vocabulary of the ‘internal’ – in all language – evolved out of metaphors drawn from the external world: to ‘grasp’ a concept, to ‘understand’, to ‘feel’, to be ‘depressed’, to ‘go through hell’. All of these are illustrations of how, at the time language was developing, the internal could only be approached by reference to the external.

    In the time to come, we will develop new languages where not only do we create fresh vocabularies of inner experience, but where these words also are applied, metaphorically, to outer experience (in an exact reversal of how our existing languages developed). Revelation, too, will be ‘inside out’ – and, thus, incomprehensible to those who are still clinging on to the remnants of an ‘inside out’ world-view.

  2. Salaam James,

    I had to reread this several times to grok you, which I think I now do.

    Originally I imagined you were engaging in some kind of dialectic of the inner and outer, reducing this “hell” to an esoteric concept, which seemed rather uncharacteristic.

    But if I read you correctly (hopefully without projecting my own belief, which is in accord), you are saying that the dialectic of the inner and outer basically flips and flops around and, eventually transmuted. But all the while, there is a Real Hell, a thing that is not “reduced” to an esoteric or inner state, but that is grasped currently “through” the symbolism of psychology. But this is due to change in the future as well.

    Post-classical people have only an outer, we have an inner and outer now, and in the future, something rich and strange. But whatever the case, we want to avoid getting stuck at the southern gate.


    If so, then I agree.

    But I am not sure if there is no way to reverse the process … as you say, the classical view got lost and then was found again, so why couldn’t we revert to being “primitive” minded again? Wasn’t that kind of Jung’s project, and he had some promising results.

    Surely it is more like a pendulum swinging — or, better yet, fashion — flares were cool, then daggy, now back in style again. Idris Shah is a good example of a teacher who successfully jettisoned the “signs” as you call them, in place for a new symbolic toolkit. He wore stovepipes. But what if the pendulum swings back and flares are suddenly the rage, thanks in part to the various groups that make darwa for the styles of the 70s, attracting many to the high street stores, but without the “funky” mindset that should enable us to pull off such a look?

    Love and Light,


  3. Musa, thank you for taking the trouble to work out what I was trying to say, because I realised afterwards how clumsily I had expressed myself. And, yes, you have understood exactly what I was getting at.

    Perhaps, though, I can just push it a little further, in order to come back to your points.

    Ancient peoples had a ‘participated’ consciousness (I borrow this word from Owen Barfield). Not only did they not have a clear demarcation between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’, but what we – today – consider to be ‘inner’ was for them ‘out there’, in the world around. To some extent the ‘Classical’ civilizations – Greece, Rome, perhaps also Persia, India and China (but I know less about these) – had begun to demarcate more clearly between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’, but in the early centuries of the Common Era, some reversion had taken place.

    To some extent this can be seen in the respective ‘missions’ of Jesus and Muhammad: Muhammad could not have articulated a message like Jesus’, because the people to whom he was sent had become more like the people of the older Jewish prophets. Indeed this becomes clear in the need for Muhammad to be a ‘lawgiver’ as well as a Prophet, in contrast to Jesus who brought no law (but simply a distillation of the law to two utterly simple principles). And, in this respect, I think, it is most significant that Muslim eschatology holds that it is Jesus, and not Muhammad, who will return (with or without a Mahdi) in the ‘last days’.

    Be that as it may, ‘modern’ humanity has changed significantly over the last thousand years. Not only do we all now instinctively distinguish between ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ – ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ – but we have created an almost impermeable boundary between them. There is no Spirit in our ‘outer world’: it is a world that we describe to ourselves as the product of wholly material (i.e. ‘outer’) forces, determined by cause and effect. This is something, I suggest, that the people of 7th century Arabia (or, for that matter, 1st century Palestine) would barely be able to comprehend.

    By the time we get to the middle of the 19th century C.E., there is a growing sense (well reflected by Hegel) that the condition of modern humanity is one of alienantion. Outwardly, Spirit (Geist), God, however one wants to put it, is vanishing from the way we see the world, to be replaced by brute forces. Inwardly, on the other hand, human beings are trapped in a sense of lonely, isolated existence. The only ‘depth’ to our experience, the only meaning, is our own separate identity. We can no longer have any confidence in a ‘God out there’, but were are unable to recognise a ‘God in here’ (only a ‘me’).

    The only place we can go from here is where the Sufis have gone before us: to the realisation that whilst we seem isolated by the bounded outwardness, the surfaces, of our outward world, we are in fact connected to everything through the integral connectedness of our inwardness. The separate self is merely a concept. Through our inner Divinity, which is a Unity, we are related to everything. And even our inner representations of the outward world, which we have come to recognise is the closest we can ever get to the ‘reality’ of what is ‘out there’, do not confine us to miserable solipsism, but are in fact meaningful self-disclosures of the One Being within our consciousness.

    ‘Hell’, then, for our ancestors, whose consciousness seemed merged with their surroundings, was an eternity of fire. For ‘modern’ humanity, on the other hand, it is an eternity of solitary confinement, of being disconnected from everything. It is meaninglessness.

    Can we go back? I don’t think so. And it seems to me that attempts to try to go back – such as the Iranian Revolution – have been disastrous failures. Imam Khomeini, the avid student of the great Sufi Daud of Kayseri, might have been an enlightened ruler in the middle ages, presiding over a golden age. But what he didn’t understand is that you cannot apply the principles that apply to a participated consciousness to the modern world. Instead this just ends up a sterile, brittle literalism. We cannot see the symbolic and the literal meanings inseparably fused together, as our ancestors could – we are forced, by our modern sensibilities, to pull these dimensions apart. And since we believe the symbol is merely subjective, ambiguous and useless, we end up simply with rigid forms, rules and dogmas – empty husks.

    As far as the ‘pendulum swinging back’ goes, we are, I believe, in a time where many people are trying to do just this. Fundamentalism, of all kinds, from Christian Evangelical to atheist/scientific, is in full swing. But fundamentalism itself is interesting, since it dates back merely to the early twentieth century, and originates in the very parts of the American mid-west that were most influenced by industrialisation. It is ‘industrial religion’: Henry Ford does scripture. Islamic and Jewish and Hindu fundamentalism all borrow from their Christian Evangelical brothers. And as one commentator has pointed out, this is in fact just one religion.

    This would seem to be in reaction to an evolutionary impulse – manifested in many different ways – that is nudging humanity to turn inwards and recognise that there are the answers to our problem. Idries Shah was one of a number of people who worked to lay some foundations for this development. What distinguished his approach, perhaps most of all, was his understanding that the traditional idioms were not going to work for the kind of people he needed to reach – those with the capacity to understand what the future was going to require. So he drew on the treasury of the Sufis to share stories, jokes, psychological and sociological insights that could help people to ‘get it’.

    “One night, a neighbor strolling by Nasrudin’s house found him outside under the street lamp brushing through the dust.

    “Have you lost something, my friend?” he asked. Nasrudin explained that he had lost his key and asked the neighbor to help him find it. After some minutes of searching and turning up nothing, the neighbor asked him, “Are you sure you lost the key here?” “No, I did not lose it here. I lost it inside the house,” Nasrudin answered. “If you lost the key in the house, Nasrudin, why are you looking for it out here?” “Well, there’s more light out here, of course,” Nasrudin replied.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s