AGRON BELICA

Author & Musician

 

The Revival of the Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist)

©2008, Agron Belica                                           

The Quran mentions the prophets as having special names and qualities. For example, Prophet Muhammad is called the Seal of the Prophets (Q. 33:40) and a mercy for the worlds (Q.21:107). Abraham is called Imam (Q. 2:124), the friend of God (Q. 4:125), a model to the world (Q. 16:120), one who is forbearing and repentant (Q. 11:74), a monotheist (Q. 16:123). Isaac is also given the quality of an Imam (Q. 21:73) who has power of vision (Q. 38:45). Aaron is called a minister (Q. 20:29); he is blessed with eloquence (Q. 28:34) and he is sent with signs and manifest authority (Q. 23:45). David is called a vicegerent on the earth (Q. 38:26) who has power and wisdom (Q. 2:251); a man of strength (Q. 38:17). Solomon is a king (Q. 38:35); he is taught the speech of birds and is bestowed with all things (Q. 27:16). Joseph is a ruler (Q. 12:88) and one who interprets dreams and visions (Q. 12:21), a man of truth (Q. 12:46), concealed as a treasure (Q. 12:19). Jacob is also called Imam (Q. 21:73). He is given the power of vision (Q.38:45). Jesus is called the Messiah (Q. 3:45). He spoke in the cradle (Q. 3:46) and is a sign to humanity and a mercy from God (Q. 19:21).


These are all prophets whose lives are familiar to us. What about the Prophet Yahya? What have we been taught about this prophet who has been overlooked and misrepresented. One reason he has been overlooked is because there are five words used in the Quran to describe Prophet Yahya that have been misinterpreted in translations of the Quran. The first is the word hasur used in the Quran (Q. 3:39) which is usually translated ”chaste.” My research shows that the Arabic word hasur does not mean “chaste” with regard to Yahya; rather, it means “a concealer [of secrets].” Why the mistake in translation and commentary? As there was no extensive information given in the Quran about the life of Prophet Yahya nor in the Tradition (hadith), the commentators then turned to Christian tradition and simply repeated what they found there.


Nonetheless, the commentators of the Quran have placed considerable emphasis on this word. Al-Tabari interprets the word hasur to mean one who abstains from sexual intercourse with women. He then reports a Tradition on the authority of Said ibn al-Musayyab which has Prophet Muhammad saying the following: “Everyone of the sons of Adam shall come on the Day of Resurrection with a sin (of sexual impropriety) except Yahya bin Zechariah.’ Then, picking up a tiny straw, he continued, ‘this is because his generative organ was no bigger then this straw (implying that he was impotent).’” Does this mean that even the prophets outside of Yahya will be raised up with this sin of sexual impropriety? How can we accept that this was said by such a modest human being, comparing a straw to another prophet’s generative organ? Was Yahya impotent? One commentator, Ibn Kathir, a renowned Islamic scholar, rejects this view and adds, “This would be a defect and a blemish unworthy of prophets.” He then mentions that it was not that he had no sexual relations with women, but that he had no illegal sexual relations with them. Indeed, the whole discussion is unseemly. It is known that prophets of God are immune from major sins, so this statement makes no sense at all when interpreting the word, hasur.


In addition, I would like to mention the fact that in his commentary, Ibn Kathir says he (Yahya) probably married and had children. He said this on the basis of what was related in the Quran of the prayer of Zachariah. There are several reasons why interpreting hasur in this context as “chaste” or ”celibate,” as has been done by some commentators, is a misinterpretation: First of all, there is another word in the Quran for “chaste” and that is muhsin As God used a different word with hasur, it must mean something different. Secondly, God says in the Quran that Islam did not bring monasticism but that it was something that they (the Christians) invented. (Q. 57:27) Also, And verily We sent messengers (to mankind) before thee, and We appointed for them wives and offspring, and it was not given to any messenger that he should bring a portent save by God’s leave. For everything there is a time prescribed. (Q. 13:38) This is definitely not a recommendation for monasticism. Furthermore, we find in the Traditions that the Prophet said that there is no monasticism in Islam. Therefore, God would not have sent a Prophet who was celibate. In addition, it is contrary the exhortation in the Torah to “go forth and multiply.” Thirdly, Yahya’s father, Zechariah prayed for a protector who would provide descendants (dhurriyah) for his family. There Zachariah called to his Lord; he said: My Lord! Bestow on me good offspring from Thy presence; truly Thou art hearing supplication. (Q. 3:38) God gave him Yahya. God would not have sent a son to Zechariah who would not carry on the line of Jacob’s descendants because then God would not have answered the prayer of Zechariah. The word hasur is used only one time in the Quran and that is in regard to the Prophet Yahya. A major Arabic-English lexicon, that of Edward William Lane (Taj al-Arus) states that when hasur is used alone, it means “concealer [of secrets].” In his translation, of Ibn al-Arabi’s Book of the Fabulous Gryphon, Elmore also translates the Arabic hasur “as concealer [of secrets].” In the referenced passage, “chaste” would not have been appropriate (Gerald T. Elmore, Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time, Brill 1999, P. 482)


The second word that has been misinterpreted is waliy (Q. 19:5) which in this verse and many other places in the Quran means “protector” rather than “heir” or “successor.” In this specific case, Zechariah prayed to his Lord: “And truly I have feared my defenders after me and my wife has been a barren woman. So bestow on me from that which proceeds from Thy Presence a protector (waliy).” In Q. 3:39, Zachariah’s prayer was answered, “…God, giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) Yahya (who cometh) to confirm a word from God, and (he will be) a chief (sayyid), and concealer (of secrets) (hasur), a prophet of the righteous.” His prayer for a protector was answered by God’s giving him a son, one with spiritual authority (sayyid). It is commonly thought that Zachariah was simply asking for a son; however, this misconception may be corrected by reading further into the text. After receiving this good news, Zachariah asked, “O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when age hath touched me already and my wife is barren?” Zachariah was asking how this would be possible as he had not even contemplated being blessed with a son in his old age, and that with a barren wife. Compare this with Mary who said, when she was given good news of a son, “How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?” (Q. 3:47) Both Zechariah and Mary were asking about the possibility of such a thing. If Zachariah were asking for a son, as has been suggested by many scholars of Islam, than why did he ask such a question when God informed him of the impending birth? The truth is that Zachariah was not asking for a son explicitly. He was asking God to send him a divinely appointed protector, from the same place whence Maryam received her provisions (rizq); hence “Give me from thy presence a protector (waliy)’ (Q. 19:5, 3:38).


The third word that is misinterpreted is fard in Q. 21:89: “And mention Zechariah when he cried out to his Lord: My Lord! Forsake me not unassisted (fard) and Thou art the Best of the ones who inherit.” It is usually translated as “childless” or “heir,” but the same reasoning applies as above. The word “unassisted” refers to the fact that Zechariah did not want to be left alone without any protector. He feared for those who would defend him and his honor after he died, that they would be left without a protector and thereby could not defend his honor.


The fourth misinterpreted word in relation to Prophet Yahya is sayyid. Prophet Yahya is referred to as a sayyid, chief in the Quran. The commentators have interpreted this to mean that he was a scholar of religious law, a wise man, a noble wise and pious man, and so forth. This was a prophet of God. Knowledge and wisdom were given to him by his Lord. The title given to Yahya by his Lord shows that Prophet Yahya is one who has spiritual authority over his people and not “noble” or “honorable” as this word is usually translated. Honor and nobility are good qualities but they fail to indicate that Prophet Yahya is given a role of leadership by his Lord.


The fifth word is hanan which means “mercy,” which is part of the compound name Yu’hanan (in English “John”), meaning “God is Merciful.” The word hanan is used once in the Quran (Q. 19:13) and that is in reference to Prophet Yahya: “And continuous mercy from Us and purity…’ This is singularly appropriate to the circumstances of the Prophet Yahya. The names Yahya and Yuhanan are not the same as many assume. They have two entirely different roots. hanan and the hannah both derive from the Semitic root h n n. While the word hannah means “mercy or tenderness,” the root word for Yahya ish y y. It means “life” or “he lives.” One does not need to be a linguist to see the obvious. In addition, I would like also to mention that this name and attribute given to Prophet Yahya can also be found in Sabian literature. The Sabians are mentioned in the Quran in verses (Q. 2:62), (Q. 5:69) and (Q. 22:17). In their canonical prayer book we find Yahya Yuhanna. It has been known that it is the practice of the Sabians to have two names, a real name and a special name. According to the Sabians, this prophet’s real name was Yahya (he lives) and his lay name was Yuhanna (John). Prophet Yahya is the only one given this name as the Quran clearly states: “O Zechariah! Truly We give thee the good tidings of a boy; his name will be Yahya (he who lives) and We assign it not as a namesake (samiy) for anyone before.”


Again, another word that we need to pay attention to is samy. It is used twice in the Quran, once in reference to Yahya (Q. 19:7) “O Zechariah! Truly We give thee the good tidings of a boy; his name will be Yahya and We assign it not as a namesake (Q. samiya) for anyone before.” The other time it is used is in reference to God. “…Knowest thou any namesake (samiy) for Him [God]?” (Q. 19:65) In the famous Arabic lexicon Lisan al-Arab, the root s m w means ”elevation or highness.”


Edited by Dr. Jay R. Crook


                       


         


 

The Crucifixion: Mistaken Identity? John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ

By Agron Belica



Agron Belica’s controversial book, The Crucifixion: Mistaken Identity?, vigorously challenges the conventional view of John the Baptist as little more than the baptizer of Jesus and the herald of his messiahship. The result of years of study, it expounds his revolutionary theories about the life, work, and significance of the neglected prophet. The John/Yahya that Belica’s work brings forth from the shadows of history is a major prophet in his own right, with an independent stature and mission. The book is a thought-provoking and fascinating re-examination of the prophet’s place in history.

 

—Dr. Jay R. Crook, author of The Bible: An Islamic Perspective series




'The Crucifixion: Mistaken Identity? by Agron Belica is an engaging analysis of the life and mission of the two kindred religious personages, John the Baptist (Yahya) and Jesus (`Isa). Even though the central argument of the book, namely that the man who was hung on the cross was John and not Jesus, may be academically open to question as it rests on circumstantial evidence, the book will add much to the discussion of an epoch-making event that has shaped world history. The book is informative and entertaining. It is certainly worth reading.' 

—Dr. Mahmoud M. Ayoub
Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations
Hartford Seminary, Hartford CT


Agron Belica is a first generation American of Albanian descent. He is devoted to a few things. One is his family, another is his religion, and yet a third is intellectual and spiritual religious inquiry. His book is a tribute to this devotion and inquiry. It is a brilliant and original look at the Gospels and the Quran, as well as the earlier Mosaic texts. In this book, the self-taught Belica, with no formal education, points out linguistic and spiritual parallels between generations of key characters in three religious histories. A devout and inquiring Muslim, using the close reading of the Quran as his guide, Belica, is able to look back at the central story of the crucifixion through a new lens, the Muslim lens, using key passages from a number of religious scriptures to build a fascinating new argument. His thoughts, insights and interpretations are remarkable, profound, and leaves the reader in awe. 


Belica notices that a son is born to the prophet Zachariah at about the same time as a son is born to Mary. He systematically and spell-bindingly leads us through the parallels between these two prophets, the second of whom we have come to know as Jesus. Both are raised in secrecy, and bring prophesy and healing. Both are spared somehow the decree of Herod at birth, only to befall religious ostracism and apparent physical mutilation beheading/crucifixion at the time of apparent earthly death. Belica takes us through the similarities in these prophet’s lives, their coming into the lives of their parents, as the sons had done, in response to prayer, or in the unlikely moment, for Mary, of her chastity. The coming together of Zachariah and Mary is cemented with the former shielding Mary from harm as her foster-father. Belica brings us back further in scriptural history to draw other such parallels when it comes to prophets, and he draws upon the Arabic roots of the names of these figures, from Adam to Zachariah’s son, to convince the reader of his novel contribution to scriptural reading. But I’m not going to give that away! For that, you must read the book yourself!

This book is slim, but both erudite and yet easy to follow, in its step by step progression through the many scriptures, seemingly so familiar is Agron Belica with every passage, the apt ones come easily to mind for him, and strike an immediate cord in us, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar we are with the text and story. And yet, this book is no recipe for persuasion. It is much more sophisticated than that. Written in a devout and true Muslim spirit, it is also—as mentioned at the beginning of this review—an inquiry and a wholly new contribution to that body of sculptural scholarship. Agron Belica advances a theory which sheds an entirely novel light on the views that are commonplace today, and, through an examination of linguistics, passages, intent, and meaning, causes us to re-examine, in an exciting, clue-ridden way, what we have assumed to be true about the three major religions for centuries, concentrating on his own Muslim faith.
—Dr. Harte Weiner

 

I am impressed with the amount of detail Agron, as well his editor and good friend Jay Crook, have used in composing this remarkable thesis. No easy task, Agron sets about trying to justify, clarify, and rectify, as applicable, the disparities within various retellings of the history of John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus the Christ. It is apparent to some that political movements of the time either changed, restricted or completely eliminated various contributions to the bible. It is conceivable that all such scriptural offerings in all the various religions underwent various pressures of a similar type. Agron opens several windows with which to air questions and suggestions that might lead to greater reasoning, awareness and understanding... part of a great gift we often take for granted (or, in some cases, refuse to employ). It is telling that some men will welcome a flame with which they may explore caverns of thought previously cursed by darkness while others will curse the flame and cling to the walls of darkness swearing that this is all there is... and all that should be. My brother Agron is most definitely the former. 

—M.Dennis Paul Ph.D.


There are two methods of gaining knowledge in the great religious traditions of the world in general, and Islam, in particular. One method is knowledge that is imitated (taqlid) or transmitted by hearsay from generation to generation like the sciences of language, history and law. With this method, a person never asks “Why?” but accepts what is taught by an authority. In the Islamic tradition this leads to ijtihad, ijtihad specifically referring to developing expertise in jurisprudence (fiqh) to the level of being able to use independent judgment in understanding Islamic law (Shariah). Such a person is known as a mujtahid. Whoever is not a mujtahid, whoever has not reached that level, must “imitate” or “follow” a person who has, whether that person is dead (Sunni Muslims) or alive (Shia Muslims). 


The second method of gaining knowledge is what is of most interest to us in this book review, that of tahqiq or intellectual knowledge where one may have a teacher for guidance but it is knowledge that cannot be passed from one generation to another. Each person has to discover it for himself or herself by “polishing the heart,” by becoming a person who sees with the eye of Oneness or tawhid, a person who deeply senses his responsibility to God, His creation and His humanity. The person who gains knowledge with this method is called “a seeker of truth” (muhaqqiq).

Intellectual knowledge (tahqiq) builds on transmitted knowledge but goes deeper. Transmitted knowledge includes memorizers of the Quran and the Hadith but only with intellectual knowledge can one understand what God and the Prophet are saying. Those who lack this intellectual endeavor have, one might say, not sought the means to see with the eye of “Oneness.”

Questions like “why” are not the only ones that the intellect of the seeker of truth asks because the underlying distinction is to think, “to think for oneself,” and not to stop at “imitation alone.”

Not everyone has been burdened with this capacity as the Quran says in 2:286, but one person who has is Agron Belica. He is a seeker of truth, seeker of the Reality (haqq), a person who has verified knowledge, not on the basis of imitating the opinion of others, but on the basis of having realized the truth for himself as well as being one who acts in accord with haqq, all the time realizing his belief in the One God, the one creation and the one humanity.

A faith tradition may survive without a living mujtahid, but it rapidly disappears without a living muhaqqiq. Without a living seeker of truth, a seeker of reality, the faith tradition cannot remain faithful to its principles because it cannot understand those principles.

Agron Belica’s basic premise is to follow the Quran and the  New Testament which all assert that Jesus is the Messiah. However according to the Quran and the Hadith, it only appeared to the people who bore witness to the Messiah that he had been crucified. In reality, according to the intellectual endeavor of the author, it was “he who lives” (Yahya), the Concealer of Secrets (hasura), as the Quran refers to him who was placed on the cross and lived, a view held by early Christian gnostics as well, but later declared to be a heresy. The Concealer of Secrets concealed the secret of his identity and that of the Messiah in order to save the Messiah. The Messiah was then allowed to carry on his prophetic mission (perhaps traveling even as far as Kashmir where many believe that he is buried).

At the same time that Mary retired to a sanctuary, Zechariah becoming her protector, Zechariah prayed for an heir. The the son of Mary, was close in age to the son of man (the Concealer of Secrets fathered by Zechariah). They may have even been cousins who resembled one another. They both began their prophetic mission around the same time yet neither revealed themselves as to who they actually were.

The author traces these and other parallels in the lives of the son of Mary and the son of man for a fascinating read. In the great tradition of seekers of truth in the past, Agron Belica brings harmony to ancient mysteries. He shows the possibility of how thing may be in the Presence of the Oneness of God and he does so through scriptures – the Quran, Hadith and the New Testament.

This is a book that should be read by everyone who wants to discern the Reality of the story of the Messiah. 

— Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar

Chicago, October 21, 2008

Prophet Yahya

“Lest the reader assume that there is something didactic about these songs, he may be assured that beyond the messages he will find the music, the voices, the lyrics, and the delivery exciting, at times poignant, and always entertaining.”

—Jay R. Crook/Md. Nur, Ph.D.


"Like everything else that Agron Belica creates, this album is a unique experiment. The songs deal with life, political issues, social problems, and world peace. The album is also a family venture: Agron’s nine-year-old son Jamal Belica is an artist in the making. Through it all, Agron remains nonchalant and even shy in talking about this side of his talents." —Professor Mahmoud M. Ayoub, B.A. (Philosophy), M.A. (Religious Thought), Ph.D. (History of Religion)


“If beauty is the capacity to introduce a change, Agron Belica expresses the true meaning of the culture of resistance. Through the beat, the lyrics, and the fat bass you can hear the sound of hope, but you can also envisage the prospect of a better future.” —Gilad Atzmon (Internationally-renowned Musician, author and peace activist)


“Every time Agron releases a new song, it blows me away. It is the new style, Newsic, and it brings current events into the popular culture better than almost any medium could. Once you listen to this you begin to get the concept... This is not a time on earth to sing songs that fail to account for the reality of our situation. Newsic allows a solid interpretation of tragedy in ways that chill the listener to the bone. Agron's songs about Vittorio Arrigoni, the murdered activist who also was ripped away from humanity at large, the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka, the plight of the Palestinians— They are a source of inspiration for so many of us, from the West Coast of the U.S. to Gaza and every point in between.” —Tim King


"Brother Agron and the crew carry on the revolutionary musical spirit that is loved and admired by all of us who fight for justice, whatever medium we employ. Music is indeed the universal language and when we strive for a better world, the songs on the Newsic album provide us with anthems for our cause."

—Ken O’Keefe, The Samouni Family Project



It's new..... Hot off those machines that record incredible amounts of sound on multilayered plastic discs, apply colorful labels to those discs, slide those discs into pre-made plastic “jewel” boxes with artwork and lots of words telling us, the buyer, what's on the disc, who made the sound on the disc, who engineered it all so that it tickles our ears and stimulates our minds, makes our hands clap and our feet tap, voices sing along and even throats and lungs maybe shout along...


It's old..... Some jazz and some blues and tastes from  a mixture of sounds like that stew mom makes every once in a while that simmers on low for a long, long time to build  heat from within blending all those fine, fine vegetables and spices... filling the room with that sense of love and togetherness... that aroma that travels from room to room up and down those stairs where everyone parks in their own little spaces doing their own little things... aroma that takes them all from those spaces and brings them all smiling and happy... and hungry for peace, happiness and understanding around a table creating a tableau... and silence... that break between songs just before the next melody is introduced to all ears hearing that passionate stew begin to bubble to a crescendo... and it is a blessing... that bubbling.... and the words that come from all at once or in their own time... reminding us why we are here... all together... Something to do with Truth... and that's old... And something to do with Justice... and that sure is old... And Peace... so very very old


It's new... TJP    It's as old as one can remember.  Each time it gathers in our presence it reminds us of all that has passed... and it guides us to what can be new.   TJP.   Truth, Justice and Peace.


It's NEWSIC... NEWSIC REVOLUTION... a production of sounds raining down on our senses and touching the old to the very new.  NEWSIC.  The NEWS brought to us in MUSIC.  NEWS and MUSIC brought to us by some remarkably talented artists and activists, both young and old.  Pictures from the past pointing us toward potential futures.  Writers painting Truth, musicians painting Justice and vibrant youth guiding us toward Peace.  Agron and Jamal Belica, Tim and Bonnie King, Ken O'Keefe, Gilad Atzmon, Austin King, Kyle Hall, Tim Adamack, Patrick Dreier, Ryan PM, Lamon Sounz & Daryl Brown and more.


NEWSIC REVOLUTION... IT”S ON!  TJP!

—M. Dennis Paul Ph. D.

Agron Belica with Tim King