Friday, May 4, 2012

al Qaida in the sky?

Alkaid. Science blogs

Alkaid, the seventh star in the tip of the Great Bear's tail get its name from the Arabic قائد بنات نعش qā'id bināt naʿsh which means Leader of the Daughters of the Bier.

The bright star is fathomed as the leader among the three mourners following the bier (the cup of the Dipper). Every night the solemn procession slowly and silently walks around the North pole.

17th century satirical poet Samuel Butler wrote wittingly about the meaning of Alkaid in Medieval Astrology when describing his anti-hero Sir Hudibras:

Sir Hudibras
Cardan believ'd great states depend
Upon the tip o' th' Bear's tail's end;
That, as she whisk'd it t'wards the Sun,
Strew'd mighty empires up and down;
Which others say must needs be false,
Because your true bears have no tails.
Samuel Butler Hudibras p.442. 1674-78  

Butler also wrote something else that fits also modern al Qaida but touches militant religiosity everywhere regardless of whether it appears among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or other people. (For violent defence of one's faith and aggressive behaviour in order to reach religious goals is a global trait in humanity.)

Sir Hudibras
For his Religion, it was fit
To match his learning and his wit;
'Twas Presbyterian true blue;
For he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints, whom all men grant
To be the true Church Militant;
Such as do build their faith upon
The holy text of pike and gun;
Decide all controversies by
Infallible artillery;
And prove their doctrine orthodox
By apostolic blows and knocks;
Call fire and sword and desolation,
A godly thorough reformation,
Which always must be carried on,
And still be doing, never done;
As if religion were intended
For nothing else but to be mended.
Samuel Butler Hudibras

Cute, but in Arabic language...
In 2007 Dr Martin Rundkvist was wondering the association of the words Alkaid and al Qaida.  He took, however, the prudent step and asked an expert on Arabic language about the linguistics - how the two words are connected. This is the definitive answer he received:

Says Dear Reader Dilworth (who should know, being a professor of Arabic), "The star in the big bear constellation is called al-qaa'id in Arabic (I checked this on several Arabic astronomy sites) with a hamza in the middle (not an Ayn) which means that it is the active participle of the verb 'to lead', with the root qaaf waaw daal. Al-Qaeda is spelled with an Ayn in the middle (root qaaf, Ayn, daal) and it has the basic meaning mentioned: to sit.  The two words are not only not cognate, they are not at all related."
Rundkvist's blog

(Click the link for more discussions on the subject.)

Despite of the linguistic crushing of the "sounds similar" theory, I found the verses of Samuel Butler on Alkaid and on religious militantism still worth referring to.  Dr Rundkivst might as "a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, public speaker, chairman of the Swedish Skeptics Society, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, and father of two" approve with this since also Voltaire was an admirer of Butler's anti-religious wit!

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