Islam/Sufism

Even After All This Time

Author: 
Hafiz

Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

"You owe me."

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

Tale of the Journeying Stream

A stream, from its course in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.

It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no way. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: "The wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream."

The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a desert.

"By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over, to your destination.

But how could this happen? "By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind."

This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to know that it could ever be regained?

"The wind," said the sand, "performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river."

"How can I know that this is true?" "It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many years. And it certainly is not the same as a stream."

"But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?"

"You cannot in either case remain so," the whisper said. "Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one."

When it heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream. Dimly it remembered a state in which it -- or some part of it? -- had been held in the arms of a wind. It also remembered -- or did it? -- that this was the real thing, not necessarily the obvious thing to do.

And the stream raised its vapor into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away. And because it had its doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in its mind the details of the experience. It reflected, "Yes, now I have learned my true identity."

The human race is a single being

The human race is a single being Created from one jewel If one member is struck All must feel the blow Only someone who cares for the pain of others Can truly be called human

- Saadi, circa 1200-1291

 

Sufi Heaven and Hell

A man, died and upon weighing the actions of his life, it was determined that he would to go to heaven. But before he went, he asked that he be allowed to see hell first. So he was led into hell and this is what he saw: row after row of dining tables, covered with the most exquisite of linens, place settings made of gold, crystal glasses, and the most delicious smelling, sumptuous of foods. And seated around the dinner tables were the residents of hell, their faces contorted in the deepest of frustration and anguish. Why would they suffer in a place such as this? The man looked closer and he saw. Tied permanently to each diner's hands were fantastically long forks - so long that while the diners could pick up the foods they chose, they could not get it to their mouths, no matter how hard they tried. And thus they were in a perpetual state of torment, being surrounded by lush, lavish foods and not being able to enjoy any of it.

Then the man was led to heaven and beheld a similar sight: row after row of dining tables, covered with the most exquisite of linens, place settings made of gold, crystal glasses, and the most delicious smelling, sumptuous foods. And seated around the dinner tables were the residents of heaven, with the same fantastically long forks attached to their hands. These forks were so long that one would never be able to get the food to one's mouth. Yet their faces beamed with serenity as they enjoyed their eternal meal together. For instead of trying to feed themselves, they were feeding each other.

 

Spiritual Window-Shoppers

These spiritual window-shoppers,
who idly ask, 'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? "Nowhere."
What did you have to eat? "Nothing much."

Even if you don't know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

- Jalaluddin Rumi 

 

Muslim Holidays

Muharram

Islamic New Year (Muharram 1) Al Hijra (Islamic New Year) -- commemorates the migration of Mohammed and his followers to Medina in 622 C.E, the establishment of first Islamic state. The date begins the Islamic calendar year. No specific religious rituals are observed.

Ashura (Muharram 10) - Shi'a commemoration of the murder of Muhammad's grandson, Hussein.  Corresponds with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

12th day of Rabi I

Mawlid al-Nabi - Prophet Muhammad's birthday. Not universally observed, since more conservative Muslims considier it idolatry.

27th of Rajab

Isra' & Mi'raj - Commemorationg Muhhamad's journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then up to heaven in one night. Night of journey of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) from Makkah to Jerusalem and then his ascension to heavens occured in the year 620 C.E. Muslims remember this day with gatherings held in mosques and homes and the whole story is told in peotry, chants, or lectures. Sweets or food are distributed.

Ramadan - Each year, Muslims spend a month in daytime fasting, during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar called Ramadan.

Begin Ramadan - a time of fasting, generosity, and reflection.

Laylat al-Qadr - Towards the end of Ramadan, Muslims observe the "Night of Power," which is when the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Muhammad. Commemorates the first revelation of the Qu'ran to Muslim Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel in 610 CE.

Eid al-Fitr - At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate "The Festival of Fast-Breaking." The significance of Eid is that it is the day of thanksgiving to Allah that He gve the opportunity to Muslims to benefit from and enjoy the blessing of the month of Ramadhan.

Hajj - Each year during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, millions of Muslims make an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia called Hajj.

Begin Hajj -

Day of Arafat - A day near the end of the Hajj when pilgrims gather at the Plain of Arafat to seek God's mercy, and Muslims elsewhere fast for the day. It was from this site that the Prophet Muhammad gave his Farewell Sermon.

Eid al-Adha - At the end of the annual pilgrimage, Muslims celebrate "The Festival of Sacrifice," which commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. A 3 day celebration for Muslims around the world whether they are making the Hajj or not.

The Spirit in Islam

I am feeling that shiver of excitement that I feel every time I discover a connection.

Over the last few weeks, a discussion group at church, has been reading "No god but God" by Reza Aslan. For those of you who still don't know about it, I can't possibly praise this book enough. It's a loving yet critical overview of the history of Islam, starting with an account of the religio-socio-political environment into which Mohammed was born, then the Prophet's life, then the four caliphs up until the Sunni/Shi'a split. The insights that Aslan presents are astounding, describing Islam as in the throes of a Reformation, with its future dependent on which side wins.

But that's not why I bring it up tonight. I'm excited because of the following passage in his description of Sufism.

During the first stages of the Way (where the majority of humanity find themselves), the nafs, which is the self, the ego, the psyche, the "I" - however one chooses to define the "sum of individualistic egoistic tendencies" - remains the sole reality. As the disciple moves along the Way he discovers the ruh, or Universal Spirit. The Quran refers to the ruh as the "breath of God" blown into Adam to give life to his body (15:29). In this sense, the ruh is equated with the divine, eternal, animating spirit that permeates creation - that is itself the essence creation. The ruh is Pure Being. It is that which Hindus call prana and Taoists call ch'i; it is the ethereal force underlying the universe that Christian mystics refer to when they speak of the Holy Spirit.

Not only are there the wonderful similarities to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism with reference to the Way, ch'i, prana, and the expansion of the understanding of self from individual self/soul/atman to Self/Soul/Atman/God. But there is ruh, in Hebrew Ruach. The breathe of God. The Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Life.

Picturing Mohammed

The Islamic proscription against depicting human forms, especially that of the Prophet, has never been as strong in the Safavid Empire (Persia/Iran) as it was in the others (Ottoman and Mughal). Knowing this, it is perhaps not surprising that an Iranian woman artist named Oranous can openly paint a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
One of the arguments made is that because the painting is of a young Mohammed, before his calling to "recite," he is not technically yet the Prophet... despite the glowy halo.
Also note that the color green is traditionally associated with the Prophet and his city of Medina.

What is surprising to me is that she can sell this painting online for money.

What also surprised me is how "feminine" he looks. Yes, he is young here, but this is a man who led a ragtag bunch of followers onto several decisive victories against militarily superior forces. I always pictured him as strong, charismatic and virile.

But maybe that reveals more about my gender biases than anything else. And it also reminds me that many depictions of Jesus are quite feminine looking, what with the long hair and the doe eyes and the slight frame. In fact, I can't think of a single depiction where I could believe that he was a "warrior" leading his "Christian soldiers" against the forces of evil. Instead, what I see is Jesus with his arms outstretched towards us, nurturing, motherly... The virtues that we ascribe to Jesus are virtues that are normally assigned to women.

Wonder if the conservative "family values" Christians ever think about that?

Islamo-what?

The local paper tells me that some students on the campus of George Washington University are in trouble today because they put up fliers advertising National Islamo-facism Awareness Week. The fliers, which start off by exclaiming "Hate Muslims? So Do We!!!" goes on to list several "stereotypical features" of Muslims, such as their "lasers in eyes" and "peg-leg for smuggling children and heroin."

GW students held meetings to express their outrage over the "hate crime." The University police began investigating. And the story went out beyond the campus grounds causing a swarm of unwanted negative publicity for the university. I've heard about it in emails and on list-serves.

Now it turns out that the group that was truly responsible for putting out the fliers did it as an attempt at satire. In an email statement, they said: "It is to our great dismay that the student body and the media missed the clear, if subtle, message of our flier: the hyperbolic nature of the flier was aimed at exposing Islamophobic racism."

Some people don't believe their explanation, but I do. I mean, c'mon, laser-eyes? peg-leg? Bigots are crazy but not that crazy.

I am grateful, however, that the students so vehemently rejected such perceived hatred. They are going to need that moral fibre since, unfortunately, while the flier is a fake Islamo-facism Awareness Week is real. Being organized by crazy-man David Horrorwitz, I mean Horowitz, it is a week-long national attempt to hold rallies of hate across American campuses. The paranoid argument is that Muslims are trying to take over America and create an Islamo-facist dictatorship. (As opposed to us invading a Muslim country or two to set up governments to our liking.)

I'm a little torn talking about this. On the one hand, I think it's important to speak against hatred whenever it arises. Otoh, I don't wish to give these guys any more publicity than they deserve, which is none. I think the best response is to let the students on these campuses respond, trusting that the vast majority of them will recognize this for what it is. If the response of the students at GW are any indication, we are in good hands.

Prayer of Rabi'a al-Adawiyya

O my Lord, if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake withhold not from me Thine eternal beauty.

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