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The Original Jewish-Indian Mystic

Dec. 21 2016

Although the interest taken by many Jews in the religions of South Asia has received much attention, less familiar is a four-century-old antecedent by the name of Sarmad Kashani. Blake Smith writes:

Born in the last decade of the 16th century to a family of Persian-speaking Jews in Armenia, Sarmad traveled to India, becoming a poet, mystic, and saint. He fused Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu traditions, drawing disciples from many religious backgrounds. These included the presumptive heir to the throne of the Mughal empire, which ruled most of India [at the time]. Christian observers and Muslim authorities, however, condemned Sarmad’s syncretic, anarchic spirituality, and he was beheaded in 1661 for religious and political offenses. . . .

Sarmad’s motivation to travel to India was financial rather than spiritual: He left home in his twenties to seek his fortune as a merchant. But his life changed abruptly when he arrived in the port city of Thatta in what is now Pakistan. . . . Sarmad abandoned his life as a merchant and, together with [his lover] Abhai Chand, dedicated himself to the pursuit of spiritual truth among South Asia’s many religious traditions. One of his first steps was to stop wearing clothes, in imitation of the naked saints of Hinduism. . . .

News of a flamboyant, naked foreigner full of exotic teachings traveled fast, and Sarmad gathered many disciples, including Prince Dara Shikoh (1633-1659), the likely heir to the Mughal throne and favorite son of the reigning emperor, Shah Jahan. The ruling dynasty of the Mughal empire was Muslim, but the majority of its subjects were not: South Asia was a place of great religious diversity, with Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians, and others all living together. Whether from genuine spiritual interest or political calculation, Dara sponsored interfaith dialogue, cultivating an image of himself as a tolerant leader. As a living symbol of spiritual syncretism, Sarmad was of great interest to Dara, who invited the Jewish-Muslim-Hindu sage to court. . . .

Sarmad, however, resisted identification with any particular creed. . . . In recent years scholars have shown that Sarmad remained immersed in the teachings of Lurianic Kabbalah even as he developed his own blend of idiosyncratic mysticism. Evidence for this theory appears in a Persian-language encyclopedia of world religions composed in India during the 1650s, the Dabastan-e Mazaheb. Sarmad and Abhai Chand contributed to the section on Judaism, offering a version of the story of Genesis steeped in kabbalistic ideas.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hinduism, History & Ideas, India, Judaism, Mysticism, Religion

 

Toward an Iran Policy That Looks at the Big Picture

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech outlining a new U.S. approach to the Islamic Republic. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz explain why it constitutes an important and much-needed rejection of past errors:

For too long, a peculiar consensus has suggested that it is possible to isolate the nuclear issue from all other areas of contention and resolve it in a satisfactory manner. The subsidiary [assumption] embedded in this logic is that despite the bluster of Iran’s rulers, it is governed by cautious men, who if offered sufficient incentives and soothing language would respond with pragmatism. No one embraced this notion more ardently than the former secretary of state, John Kerry, who crafted an accord whose deficiencies are apparent to all but the most hardened partisans. . . .

A regime as dangerous as the Iranian one requires no less than a comprehensive strategy to counter it. This means exploiting all of its vulnerabilities, increasing the costs of its foreign adventures, draining its economy, and aiding our allies. Most importantly, the United States must find a way of connecting itself to domestic opposition that continuously haunts the mullahs.

Washington should no longer settle for an arms-control agreement that paves Iran’s path to a bomb but rather a restrictive accord that ends its nuclear aspirations. The United States should not implore its allies to share the Middle East with Iran, as Barack Obama did, but partner with them in defeating the clerical imperialists. And most importantly, the United States should never forget that its most indispensable ally is the Iranian people.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Iran nuclear program, Mike Pompeo, U.S. Foreign policy