Asahara isn’t the only religious leader known for his poor vision. An installment of the explainer column this week at Slate discusses a practical reasons why there are so many blind Islamic clerics.
A traditional Muslim education in some ways favors the blind, since it proceeds largely through the repetition and memorization of sacred texts. Children chant Quranic verses until they know them by heart; those who learn the whole book often receive advanced religious training. Blind kids—who often make up for their disability with a finely tuned sense of hearing—tend to do quite well at this.
Children who can’t see may also get pushed toward the clergy by their parents. Clerics often preach through the artful recitation of the Quran—something a blind person can learn to do as well as anyone else. The same child would be at a severe disadvantage in a conventional classroom, and he’d have a harder time holding down a regular job.
The type of study needed for Buddhism is very different and with the heavy emphasis on Sutra study might not be as comfortable for a blind student, but Asahara’s partial-sightedness caused him to be placed in an environment that allowed his most anti-social tendencies to foster. Look at this excert from an article about Asahara and Aum that I linked to a few days ago.
Smitten at birth with infantile glaucoma, he was blind in his left eye and only partially sighted in his right.
Because of his disability and timid manner, he was bullied and teased constantly at school until his parents enrolled him in a government-funded school for the blind.
He quickly learned that being the only partially sighted child in a class full of blind students had distinct advantages. It wasn’t long before he became the school bully, dominating and manipulating his classmates into doing his bidding.
Have you heard the expression “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”? Have you ever before thought that it could be literally true?
Asahara is of course far from the only blind prophet in history. It’s a common archetype in mythology and fantasy, the most famous example of which is probably the Greek seer Tiresias.