SHAZRAD: City of Veils

The people of Shazrad believe in a single god, but not to the exclusion of other, lesser powers known as djinni.

The god created the world and all that dwells within with an ur-word. He resides now in the heavens and will only intervene for rare miracles for his most favored and blessed of followers, including visions and prodigious strength or healing. He is all-knowing and all-seeing. His eyes are said to be as numerous as the stars, whose light can reach anywhere.

Prayer is made to him once in the morning, immediately after rising, and once in the evening, before retiring, although the less devout are not known for rigorously scheduled prayers. Those who would ask for more from him than a benign eye may make a donation or sacrifice beyond the normal tithe. Only small animals are used for the latter, and only a priest may carry it out properly.

Priests of the god renounce marriage and wealth, and serve as keepers of his temple, healers, and scholars. The temple library is extensive and can be browsed by respectful visitors.

The temple in Shazrad is a sanctuary of people as well as of books. Harm to another person is unthinkable within it, although anyone who is not a priest may stay only for the length of one day and one night. The other exception is those who are present for healing: the gravely ill or injured, who are tended without cost, out of the god's mercy.

But the god has a harsher side, one of justice. He is expected to impart his wisdom to his priests, who may then serve as judges whenever disputes arise.

Worship of the star-eyed god is the only official religion in Shazrad, practiced by a majority of her citizens and by many others who dwell in the surrounding lands. Those who do not should beware, or hide the fact.

Splinter sects do exist, but they are usually heavily frowned upon by the official, to the point where they can be punishable by death. One of the more notorious is the cult of the All-Named, members of which can be found incognito in the ranks of the House of a Thousand Tales as well as the Starborn clergy and in non-House-affiliated poets and academics. They believe that first there was this word, and that the word was "word," or "language," and that the word created first God, then everything else.

Adherents of the All-Named believe in the divine powers of language and naming. They view reality as a text, or set of texts, and the mystery of the veils is easily accountable for in their theology of rough drafts and erasures. They range from fatalistic ("It has all been written!") to messianic ("Water is just three letters from wine."), and have a tendency to see saviours in tourettics.

There are four "canon" collections of texts that form the mainstream of worship, known in totality as the Kitabi Jash (Holy Books). The authorship of certain segments are known, but many passages seem to consist of ancient myths, proverbs and prophecies compiled hodgepodge by ancient scribes.

The first collection, the Kitaba El, is mystical account of the creation of the world and the existing order. It is steeped in metaphor and lush, strange, even contradictory imagery and alludes frequently to older religious traditions, now only practiced clandestinely. The average Shazrash tends to have only an elementary understanding of this text, though mystics (and even heretics) tend to gravitate naturally toward it.

The second collection is the Kitaba Feiji, or the Book of Warnings. Dialogues form the majority of its content, depicting both everyday and not-so-everyday scenarios and their spiritual consequences. The presence of the Star-Eyed God is somewhat sporadic, as many dialogues have a commonsense moral that might well be suited to a nonreligious reading. Shazrash children learn many of these dialogues from their parents as they grow up, though some forget them just as quickly.

The third collection, the Kitaba Khen Makhat, or the Book of the Honey Voice, contains psalms, praises, and prophecies that flow one into the other. These verses can be found inscribed along the bases of statuaries, painted around windows, or whispered reverently into the wind, even among the less-devout.

The final collection, the Kitaba Narushi, or the Book of the Prophets, tells of the lives of various priests and prophets who were (at least according to the writings) instrumental to the spread of the Starborn Word across the holy sands. Certain passages remain controversial even today due to the fact that they offer conflicting fates for certain personages; some insist that these differences actually represent holy visions of possibilities, as embodied in Shazrad's Veils, while others insist that the passages are false or misleading and should be removed.

To complicate the matter, there are extensive commentaries written by various priests, heretics and philosophers over the years. While the mainstream interpretations are taught by the House of the Starborn Word, beliefs and practice diverge from region to region, and even among the Shazrash themselves. It seems certain that the Kitabi Jash draw upon older traditions, such as Djinn-worship, other gods, and even human sacrifice to appease the wind and sand. Rare, however, is the priest of the Starborn Word who will admit it--in public.
It should also be mentioned that certain texts, the Kitabi Han, or Forbidden Books, are strongly associated with the four canon texts, but their validity is rejected by mainstream scholars. The House of the Starborn Word limits the availability and dissemination of the Kitabi Han, though in practice variants thereof have been known to float around Shazrad through rare-manuscripts merchants, advocates of underground religions, and scholars who care little for the dictates of the House. This has often been a source of contention between the Starborn Word and the Thousand Tales, as the latter House considers it a duty to preserve stories, no matter how heretical, even as it suppresses their telling in the general public.

Copyright © 2000-2001 by Alioqui & Yoon Ha Lee

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