Sunday, April 29, 2007

Remembrance Part 4

The second degree of the recollection of God is that of "the companions of the right hand." They are aware that God knows all about them, and feel abashed in His presence, yet they are not carried out of themselves by the thought of His majesty, but remain clearly conscious of themselves and of the world.

Their condition is like that of a man who should be suddenly surprised in a state of nakedness and should hastily cover himself, while the other class resemble one who suddenly finds himself in the presence of the King and is confused and awestruck. The former subject every project which enters their minds to a thorough scrutiny, for at the Last Day three questions will be asked respecting every action: the first, "Why did you do this?" the second, "In what way did you do this?" the third, "For what purpose did you do this?"

The first will be asked because a man should act from divine and not merely Satanic or fleshly impulse. If this question is satisfactorily answered, the second will test in what way the action was done, wisely, or carelessly and negligently, and the third, whether it was done simply to please God, or to gain the approval of men. If a man understands the meaning of these questions he will be very watchful over the state of his heart, and how he entertains thoughts which are likely to end in action. Rightly to discriminate among such thoughts is a very difficult and delicate matter, and he who is not capable of it should attach himself to some spiritual director, intercourse with whom may illuminate his heart. He should avoid with the utmost care the merely worldly learned man who is an agent of Satan.

God said to David, "O David! ask no questions of the learned man who is intoxicated with love of the world, for he will rob thee of My love," and the Prophet said: "God, loves that man who is keen to discern in doubtful things, and who suffers not his reason to be swayed by the assaults of passion." Reason and discrimination are closely connected, and he in whom reason does not rule passion will not be keen to discriminate.

Besides such cautious discrimination before acting a man should call himself strictly to account for his past actions. Every evening he should examine his heart as to what he has done to see whether he has gained or lost in his spiritual capital. This is the more necessary as the heart is like a treacherous business partner, always ready to cajole and deceive; sometimes it presents its own selfishness under the guise of obedience to God, so that a man supposes he has gained, whereas he has really lost.

A certain saint named Amiya, sixty years of age, counted up the days of his life. He found they amounted to twenty-one thousand six hundred days. He said to himself, "Alas! if I have committed one sin every day, how can I escape from the load of twenty-one thousand six hundred sins?" He uttered a cry and fell to the ground; when they came to raise him they found him dead.

But most people are heedless, and never think of calling themselves to account. If for every sin a man committed he placed a stone in an empty house, he would soon find that house full of stones; if his recording angels demanded wages of him for writing down his sins, all his money would soon be gone. People count on their rosaries with self-satisfaction the numbers of times they have recited the name of God, but they keep no rosary for reckoning the numberless idle words they speak.

Therefore the Caliph Umar said, "Weigh well your words and deeds before they be weighed at the Judgment." He himself before retiring for the night, used to strike his feet with a scourge and exclaim, "What hast thou done to-day?"

Abu Talha was once praying in a palm-grove, when the sight of a beautiful bird which flew out of it caused him to make a mistake in counting the number of prostrations he had made. To punish himself for his inattention, he gave the palm-grove away. Such saints knew that their sensual nature was prone to go astray, therefore they kept a strict watch over it, and punished it for each transgression.

If a man finds himself sluggish and averse. from austerity and self-discipline he should consort with one who is a proficient in such practices so as to catch the contagion of his enthusiasm. One saint used to say, "When I grow lukewarm in self-discipline, I look at Muhammad Ibn Wasi, and the sight of him rekindles my fervour for at least a week."

If one cannot find such a pattern of austerity close at hand, then it is a good thing to study the lives of the saints; he should also exhort his soul somewhat in the following way: "O my soul! thou thinkest thyself intelligent and art angry at being called a fool, and yet what else art thou, after all? Thou preparest clothing to shield thee from the cold of winter, yet makest no preparation for the after-life.

Thy state is like that of a man who in mid-winter should say, 'I will wear no warm clothing, but trust to God's mercy to shield me from the cold. He forgets that God, at the same time that He created cold, showed man the way to make clothing to protect himself from it, and provided the material for that clothing. Remember this also, O soul, that thy punishment hereafter will not be because God is angry with thy disobedience; and say not, 'How can my sin hurt God?' It is thy lusts themselves which will have kindled the flames of a hell within thee; just as, from eating unwholesome food, disease is caused in a man's body, and not because his doctor is vexed with him for disobeying his orders.

"Shame upon thee, O soul, for thy overweening love of the world! If thou dost not believe in heaven or hell, at any rate thou believes in death, which will snatch from thee all worldly delights and cause thee to feel the pangs of separation from them, which will be intenser just in proportion as thou hast attached thyself to them. Why art thou mad after the world? If the whole of it, from East to West, were thine and worshipped thee, yet it would all, in a brief space, turn to dust along with thyself, and oblivion would blot out thy name, as those of ancient kings before thee. But now, seeing thou hast only a very small fragment of the world, and that a defiled one, wilt thou be so mad as to barter eternal joy for it, a precious jewel for a broken cup of earthenware, and make thyself the laughingstock of all around thee?"

Remembrance Part 3

There are two degrees of this recollection of God. The first degree is that of those saints whose thoughts are altogether absorbed in the contemplation of the majesty of God, and have no room in their hearts for anything else at all. This is the lower degree of recollection, for when a man's heart is fixed, and his limbs are so controlled by his heart that they abstain from even lawful actions, he has no need of any device or safeguard against sins. It was to this kind of recollection that the Prophet referred to when he said, "He who rises in the morning with only God in his mind, God shall look after him, both in this world and the next."

Some of these recollectors of God are so absorbed in the thought of Him that, if people speak to them they do not hear, or walk in front of them they do not see, but stumble as if they collided with a wall.

A certain saint relates as follows: "One day I passed by a place where archers were having a shooting-match. Some way off a man was sitting alone. I approached him and attempted to engage him in talk, but he replied, "The remembrance of God is better than talk." I said, "Are you not lonely?" "No," he answered, "God and two angels are with me." Pointing to the archers, I asked, Which of these has carried off the prize?" "That one," was his reply, "to whom God has allotted it." Then I inquired, "Where does this road come from?" Upon which, lifting up his eyes to heaven, he rose and departed, saying, "O Lord! many of Thy creatures hold one back from the remembrance of Thee!"

The saint Shibli one day went to see the Sufi Thaury; he found him sitting so still in contemplation that not a hair of his body moved. He asked him, "From whom didst thou learn to practise such fixity of contemplation?" Thaury answered, "From a cat which I saw waiting at a mouse-hole in an attitude of even greater fixity than this."

Ibn Hanif relates: "I was informed that in the city of Sur a sheikh and his disciple were always sitting lost in the recollection of God. I went there and found them both sitting with their faces turned in the direction of Mecca. I saluted them thrice, but they gave no answer. I said, 'I adjure you, by God, to return my salutation.' The youth raised his head and replied, 'O Ibn Hanif! The world lasts but for a little time, and of this little time only a little is remaining. Thou art hindering us by requiring us to return thy salutation.' He then bent his head again and was silent. I was hungry and thirsty at the time, but the sight of those two quite carried me out of myself. I remained standing and prayed with them the afternoon and evening prayer. I then asked them for some spiritual advice. The younger replied, 'O Ibn Hanif, we are afflicted; we do not possess that tongue which gives advice.' I remained standing there three days and nights; no word passed between us and none of us slept. Then I said within myself, 'I will adjure them by God to give me some counsel.' The younger, divining my thoughts, again raised his head: 'Go and seek such a man, the visitation of whom wilt bring God to thy remembrance and infix His fear in thy heart, and he will give thee that counsel which is conveyed by silence and not by speech.'" Such is the "recollection" of the saints which consists in being entirely absorbed in the contemplation of God.

Remembrance Part 2

As the entry on "Remembrance" attracted much interest, I hope the next few instalments taken from al-Ghazzali's "The Alchemy of Happiness" may be useful to clear some thoughts.

I am very much attracted to the manner each point is being illustrated by such beautiful stories to illustrate those points, and as they have been effective to me, I myself have used some of these stories to illustrate my points in my lectures.

"We come now to the recollection of God. This consists in a man's remembering that God observes all his acts and thoughts. People only see the outward, while God sees both the outer and the inner man. He who really believes this will have both his outer and inner being well disciplined. If he disbelieve it, he is an infidel, and if, while believing it, he acts contrary to that belief, he is guilty of the grossest presumption.

One day a negro came to the Prophet and said, "O Prophet of God! I have committed much sin. Will my repentance be accepted, or not?" The Prophet said "Yes." Then the negro said, "O Prophet of God, all the time I was committing sin, did God really behold it?" "Yes," was the answer. The negro uttered a cry and fell lifeless. Till a man is thoroughly convinced of the fact that be is always under God's observation it is impossible for him to act rightly.

A certain sheikh once had a disciple whom he favoured above his other disciples, thus exciting their envy. One day the sheikh gave each of them a fowl and told each to go and kill it in a place where no one could see him. Accordingly each killed his fowl in some retired spot and brought it back, with the exception of the sheikh's favourite disciple, who brought his back alive, saying, "I have found no such place, for God sees everywhere." The sheikh said to the others, "You see now this youth's real rank; he has attained to the constant remembrance of God."

When Zuleikha tempted Joseph she cast a cloth over the face of the idol she used to worship. Joseph said to her, "O Zuleikha, thou art ashamed before a block of stone, and should I not be ashamed before Him who created the seven heavens and the earth?"

A man once came to the saint Junaid and said, "I cannot keep my eyes from casting lascivious looks. How shall I do so?" "By remembering," Junaid answered, "that God sees you much more clearly than you see any one else."

In the traditions it is written that God has said, "Paradise is for those who intend to commit some sin and then remember that My eye is upon them and forbear."

Abdullah Ibn Dinar relates, "Once I was walking with the Caliph Umar near Mecca when we met a shepherd's slave-boy driving his flock. Omar said to him, "Sell me a sheep." The boy answered, "They are not mine, but my master's." Then, to try him, Umar said, "Well, you can tell him that a wolf carried one off, and he will know nothing about it." "No, he won't," said the boy, "but God will." Omar then wept, and, sending for the boy's master, purchased him and set him free, exclaiming, "For this saying thou art free in this world and shalt be free in the next."


I know many of my well-meaning friends may jump when they see the title of this entry - but sorry to disappoint them again: it is not my wedding :-)

Instead, one of my good friend and a fellow bird who attends the Tuesdays' book club until he is recently busily engaged, is getting married tomorrow, insya-Allah. I am honoured to be asked to be the witness for the nikah. All is getting quite busy and exciting these last few days, for him I am sure and for the rest of his closer friends.

One of his close friend since their school-days messaged me last Friday: "Let's meet ---- for dinner for the last time as a bachelor". Hmmm... it has a melancholy feel to it.

So, in honour of his wedding, I wish to dedicate this entry to him, who shall remain nameless in this entry. May Allah give him a Blessed and lasting marriage, and the marriage be as a continuation of the beautiful unions of all our Prophets' marriages, and his progeny be pious as those Prophets. May Allah's Protection and Guidance be perpetually on them in achieving piety. Amin.

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.



When I first began this blog, I did not imagine how it will turn out to be. I did it for various reasons: I have encouraged some of my older students to begin writing since ages ago of their life's journeys and since none of them had even begin 6 years down the road, I guess I had to do it first. The excuse is that their writings are never good enough or they have nothing to tell. In fact, everyone has a story to tell - to inspire others who come later but more importantly, to make sense of our own journey here and now. Writing forces one to articulate how one feels about things that happens to oneself and to make the continual assessment of one's journey - how we fall and how we rise again, how we tasted Allah's sweet Blessings upon us and how we are grateful of those Blessings upon others...

On a personal note, I write because sometimes after reading a book in the middle of the night or a profound thought came to mind, I explode with the knowledge that I gained and wished to share it with anyone. But due to the ghostly time, I could not do so. And of course, in the course of writing, I am able to view, in the future, of my being in the past, now.

I began this blog on 18 March 2007. I installed the counter on 31 March 2007 and since that installation, this blog has crossed the 1,000th visitor. For a blog that is about 1.5 month's old, I am indeed pleasantly surprised and never expected this achievement. Alhamdulillah!

I pray that this blog has been beneficial to those who have been gracious enough to visit, and particularly to those who have been more than kind to send your thoughtful comments to be shared with the others. I have definitely benefitted through it. Alhamdulillah!

This has been a good journey and it is a long road ahead. Thank you for being the beautiful companion in this journey ... and for many more, insya-Allah.

And yet, I am always reminded of this:

"Writings, that man carved on stones to last for eternity, is to Allah, like writings on the water" ... The Writing on the Water, Muhyiddin Shakoor


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Remembrance Part 1

Was passing by an eating joint on the way home and overheard the 6 finalists of American Idol singing in unison through the large television set, of which a line from the chorus struck me:

"When you get to the top of the mountain, remember me"

I was really not familiar with the name of the song, but coincidentally, I was earlier preparing my Tawhid notes for my class tomorrow night and used this beautiful verse of the Qur'an in one of the slides:

“Therefore, remember Me and I will remember you. Be grateful to Me and reject not Faith” … al-Baqarah 2:152

We all have heard this verse before and would probably have memorised it and possible claimed to have complied with it. But my question is: what constitutes "remembrance" and "gratefulness"? What do we need to do to be considered as one who "remembers" God?

And it made me think of other connecting life issues.

Do not forget the contributions made by ancient phantoms (our old primary school teachers who taught us our foundational knowledge and skills that we use which makes us graduates, our first friend that warmly welcomed us to play with them during recess, our friend whose name we even forgot who helped us dig our first trench overnight during our national service, or our colleague who took over our presentation because we were on MC on that day etc) in our lives that made us what we are now.

It is precisely the people in our past who have touched our lives that made us the success story that we are now - more than the people whom we meet today.

Then, those people whom we meet today will in due time also join the ranks of our ancient phantoms in our life who has shaped us and empowered us to move forward to enable us to create our legacies.

And it goes on and on ...

So, what is "remembrance"? Lip service is so convenient.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Signs of the Love of God

The Signs of the Love of God

Many claim to love God, but each should examine himself as to the genuineness of the love which he professes.

The first test is this: he should not dislike the thought of death, for no friend shrinks from going to see a friend. The Prophet said, "Whoever wishes to see God, God wishes to see him." It is true a sincere lover of God may shrink from the thought of death coming before he has finished his preparation for the next world, but if he is sincere, he will be diligent in making such preparation.

The second test of sincerity is that a man should be willing to sacrifice his will to God's, should cleave to what brings him nearer to God, and should shun what places him at a distance from God. The fact of a man's sinning is no proof that he does not love God at all, but it proves that he does not love Him with his whole heart. The saint Fudhail said to a certain man, "If any one asks you whether you love God, keep silent; for if you say, 'I do not love Him,' you are an infidel; and if you say, 'I do,' your deeds contradict you."

The third test is that the remembrance of God should always remain fresh in a man's heart without effort, for what a man loves he constantly remembers, and if his love is perfect he never forgets it. It is possible, however, that, while the love of God does not take the first place in a man's heart, the love of the love of God may, for love is one thing and the love of love another.

The fourth test is that he will love the Koran, which is the Word of God, and Muhammad, who is the Prophet of God; if his love is really strong, he will love all men, for all are God's servants, nay, his love will embrace the whole creation, for he who loves any one loves the works he composes and his handwriting.

The fifth test is, he will be covetous of retirement and privacy for purposes of devotion;, he will long for the approach of night, so that he may hold intercourse with his Friend without let or hindrance. If he prefers conversation by day and sleep at night to such retirement, then, his love is imperfect. God said to David, "Be not too intimate with men; for two kinds of persons are excluded from My presence: those who are earnest in seeking reward and slack when they obtain it, and those who prefer their own thoughts to the remembrance of Me. The. sign of My displeasure is that I leave such to themselves." In truth, if the love of God really take possession of the heart all other love is excluded. One of the children of Israel was in the habit of praying at night, but, observing that a bird sang in a certain tree very sweetly, he began to pray under that tree, in order to have the pleasure of listening to the bird. God told David to go and say to him, "Thou hast mingled the love of a melodious bird with the love of Me; thy rank among the saints is lowered." On the other hand, some have loved God with such intensity that, while they were engaged in devotion, their houses have caught fire and they have not noticed it.

A sixth test is that worship becomes easy. A certain saint said, "During one space of thirty years I performed my night-devotions with great difficulty, but during a second space of thirty years they became a delight." When love to God is complete no joy is equal to the joy of worship.

The seventh test is that lovers of God will love those who obey Him and hate the infidels and the disobedient, as the Koran says: "They are strenuous against the unbelievers and merciful to each other." The Prophet once asked God and said, "O Lord! who are Thy lovers?" and the answer came, "Those who cleave to Me as a child to its mother, take refuge in the remembrance of Me as a bird seeks the shelter of its nest, and are as angry at the sight of sin as an angry lion who fears nothing."

... The Alchemy of Happiness, al-Ghazzali

On Teaching

Then said a teacher, "Speak to us of Teaching."

And he said:
No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.
The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it.
And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.
For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.
And even as each one of you stands alone in God's knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.

... The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

On Friendship

And a youth said, "Speak to us of Friendship."

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

... The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Not Without Tears

I cease not from desire till my desire
Is satisfied; or let my mouth attain
My love's red mouth, or let my soul expire,
Sighed from those lips that sought her lips in vain.
Others may find another love as fair;
Upon her threshold I have laid my head,
The dust shall cover me, still lying there,
When from my body life and love have fled.

My soul is on my lips ready to fly,
But grief beats in my heart and will not cease,
Because not once, not once before I die,
Will her sweet lips give all my longing peace.
My breath is narrowed down to one long sigh
For a red mouth that burns my thoughts like fire;
When will that mouth draw near and make reply
To one whose life is straitened with desire?

When I am dead, open my grave and see
The cloud of smoke that rises round thy feet:
In my dead heart the fire still burns for thee;
Yea, the smoke rises from my winding-sheet!
Ah, come, Beloved! for the meadows wait
Thy coming, and the thorn bears flowers instead
Of thorns, the cypress fruit, and desolate
Bare winter from before thy steps has fled.

Hoping within some garden ground to find
A red rose soft and sweet as thy soft cheek,
Through every meadow blows the western wind,
Through every garden he is fain to seek.
Reveal thy face! that the whole world may be
Bewildered by thy radiant loveliness;
The cry of man and woman comes to thee,
Open thy lips and comfort their distress!

Each curling lock of thy luxuriant hair
Breaks into barbed hooks to catch my heart,
My broken heart is wounded everywhere
With countless wounds from which the red drops start.
Yet when sad lovers meet and tell their sighs,
Not without praise shall Hafiz' name be said,
Not without tears, in those pale companies
Where joy has been forgotten and hope has fled.

... Hafiz of Shiraz

My Friend Has Fled

My friend has fled! alas, my friend has fled,
And left me nought but tears and pain behind!
Like smoke above a flame caught by the wind,
So rose she from my breast and forth she sped.
Drunk with desire, I seized Love's cup divine,
But she that held it poured the bitter wine
Of Separation into it and fled.

The hunter she, and I the helpless prey;
Wounded and sick, round me her toils she drew,
My heart into a sea of sorrow threw,
Bound up her camel loads and fled away.
Fain had I laid an ambush for her soul,
She saw and vanished, and the timid foal,
Good Fortune, slipped the rein and would not stay.

My heart was all too narrow for my woe,
And tears of blood my weeping eyes have shed,
A crimson stream across the desert sped,
Rising from out of my sad heart's overflow.
She knew not what Love's meanest slave can tell:
"'Tis sweet to serve!" but threw me a Farewell,
Kissing my threshold, turned, and cried "I go!"

In the clear dawn, before the east was red,
Before the rose had torn her veil in two,
A nightingale through Hafiz' garden flew,
Stayed but to fill its song with tears, and fled.

... Hafiz of Shiraz

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jewels of Remembrance

"Whatever is steeped in grape juice will acquire the flavor of the grape.
Whether it be carrots or apples or quinces and walnuts,
You will taste in them the delicious flavor of the grape.
When your knowledge is steeped in the light of faith,
Then wayward people will receive light from it.
Whatever you say will be luminous,
For the sky never rains anything but pure water.
Become like the sky.
Become like the cloud and shed rain:
Tthe spout rains, too, but it can't produce the rain.
The water in the spout is borrowed;
The water in the cloud and sea is original.
Your thought and reasoning resemble the spout;
Inspiration and revelation are like the cloud and the sky.
The rain water engenders all the colors of the garden,
While the spout causes quarrels with your neighbors."

... Mathnawi, Jalaluddin Rumi


"I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?
Look at your eyes. They are small,
But they see enormous things."

... Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Deeds And Rewards

Deeds, whether prayer, or the dhikr or "remembrance" of Allah, or fasting, or jihad, do not cause one to reach the end of the path, but are merely proper manners before the majesty of the Divine while on it. Just as putting one’s net in the sea does not produce fish, though one must keep it there so that if Allah sends fish they can be caught—so too works are a net, and their spiritual outcomes are from Allah.

Abu Huraira (ra) heard the Holy Prophet (saw) say:

"None of you shall be saved by his works." A man said, "Not even you yourself, O Messenger of Allah?" He said, "Not even me myself, unless Allah envelopes me in Mercy from Him. But aim to do right" (Muslim, 4.2169: 2816).

Imam Nawawi comments:
The outward purport of these ahadeeth bears out the position of those who are in the right, that no one deserves reward and paradise for his acts of obedience. As for the words of Allah Most High:

"Enter paradise for that which you have done" (an-Nahl 16:32),
"That is paradise, which you have been bequeathed for what you used to do" (al-'Araf 7:43),

and similar verses that indicate that paradise is entered by virtue of works, they do not contradict these hadiths. Rather, the meaning of the verses is that entering paradise is because of works, although divinely given success (tawfiq) to do those works, and being guided to have sincerity in them, and their acceptability are the Mercy of Allah Most High and His Favor (Sharh Sahih Muslim, 17.160–61).

... extract from Nuh Ha Mim Keller's 'The Aphorisms of ibn Atta'illah'

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Women & Islam

Am involved in a workshop today with 2 other enlightened friends of mine on the topic of "Women & Islam". Most women, Muslims included, sometimes feel that they are marginalised and treated as second-class in this religion.

This is the second run of this programme. Currently, my male asatizah friend is lecturing on "Islamic Worldview", then an Ustazah will address the topic of "Between Rights & Obligations: Women In Islam" and finally, I will be lecturing on the topic of "Marriage & Divorce In Islam".

I think this is such a wonderful programme to eradicate any mis-perceptions, or otherwise - sometimes understandable. Muslim men need to learn what their rights are from their wives, but, more importantly, what their obligations are towards them before such rights can be accorded to them. And, the reverse is equally true as well.

And another wonderful thing today is: about half of the participants are non-Muslim social workers. This is a very positive step forward indeed.

Question is:
Are we Muslims not interested?
Or are we comfortable with our lot thus far?
Do you think, as Muslim women, you are oppressed or are treated as second-class?

Please let me hear your views. I am sure some of the readers of my Blog were there today, or am a social worker who may wish to share your experiences from the ground with others in this Blog.

On Love

"Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say,
"God is in my heart," but rather,
" I am in the heart of God."

And think not you can direct the course of love,
For love, if it finds you worthy,
Directs your course"

... The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Prophet Joseph (as)

We spoke about "aspirations" in class on Tuesday. I wish to merely share 2 stories which we spoke about. There will be no commentary from me as it took us one whole class to understand this and it will not do justice to summarise our discussions in this meagre entry. And yes, thank you for the entertaining (and sometimes confusing) skits which the birds put up :-)

The first one was about an intended purchase by an old lady of Prophet Joseph (as) and the second story was about the poverty of Ibrahim Adham.

Just read and think about them ... and then, think again. Masya-Allah ... SubhanAllah!

The Old Woman Who Wanted To Buy Joseph

"When Joseph was for sale, the market-place
Teemed with Egyptians wild to see his face;
So many gathered there from dawn to dusk
The asking price was five whole tubs of musk.
An ancient crone pushed forward - in her hand
She held a few threads twisted strand by strand;
She brandished them and yelled with all her might:
"Hey, you, the seller of the Canaanite!
I'm mad with longing for this lovely child -
I've spun these threads for him, he drives me wild!
You take the threads and I'll take him away -
Don't argue now, I haven't got all day!"
The merchant laughed and said: "Come on, old girl,
It's not for you to purchase such a pearl -
His value's reckoned up in gold and jewels;
He can't be sold for threads to ancient fools!"
"Oh, I knew that before," the old crone said;
"I knew you wouldn't sell him for my thread -
But it's enough that everyone will say
'She bid for Joseph on that splendid day'" ...

What struck me in this story was really the last four lines.

The Poverty Of Ibrahim Adham

I know of one who whined inceasingly,
Complaining of his abject poverty,
Till Ibrahim Adham said: "Do you weep
Because you bought your poverty too cheap?"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Attar and Rumi

Some interesting facts for the Tuesday's book-club reading Attar's Conference of the Birds:

When the Mongols invaded Central Asia sometime between 1215 and 1220, Rumi's father (Bahauddin Walad) set out westwards with his whole family and a group of disciples. On the road to Anatolia, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, Attar, in the city of Nishapur, located in what is now the Iranian province of Khorasan. Attar immediately recognized Rumi's spiritual eminence. He saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, "Here comes a sea followed by an ocean." He gave the boy his Asrarnama, a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world. This meeting had a deep impact on the eighteen-year-old Rumi's thoughts, which later on became the inspiration for Rumi's works.

One day, while Rumi and his favourite student, the famous Husam Chelebi, were wandering through the Meram vineyards outside of Konya when the later described an idea he had to Rumi: "If you were to write a book like the Ilahiname of Sanai or the Mantiq 'ut-Tayr (Conference of the Birds) of Attar it would become the companion of many troubadours. They would fill their hearts from your work and compose music to accompany it."

Rumi smiled and started immediately to write the first eighteen lines of his major work: The Mathnawi. Husam implored Rumi to write more. Rumi spent the next twelve years of his life in Anatolia dictating the six volumes of this masterwork, the Mathnawi to Husam.

Those first lines can be found in the opening of the Mathnawi, under the title: "Song of the Reed". I was blessed to have been given the opportunity and invited to give a lecture on it a few years back and was indeed fortunate to have attended a conference in which these verses were read in its original Persian language. It was truly exceptional and exquisite. Alhamdulillah!

Song of the Reed

Listen to the reed as it tells its tale;
it complains of separation.

Since they cut me from the reed-bed,
men and women have been crying over my lament.

I wish for someone with a bosom torn apart by separation,
so that I can tell them the meaning of the pain of longing.

Everyone who stays far away from his own origin
seeks to get back to the day he was together with it.

I have been crying in every gathering;
I have kept company with the miserable and the happy.

Everyone has thought he is my friend,
but no one has sought my inner secrets.

My secret is not far from my crying,
but neither eye nor ear has the light to find it.

Body from soul, soul from body are not veiled,
but no one has permission to see the soul.

This call of the reed is fire, not wind.
Everyone who has not this fire--should be naught.

The fire is love that came down into the reed;
its fervor is love that came down into the wine.

The reed is the companion of everyone parted from a beloved.
Its tunes have torn apart our veils.

Who has seen such a poison and antidote as the reed?
Who has seen such a sympathizer and longing lover as the reed?

The reed tells the tale of the Way full of blood.
It tells the love stories of Layla and Majnun.

No one but the delirious is intimate with this consciousness.
The tongue has no customer but the ear.

In our sorrow the days have become untimely.
The days accompany the burning griefs.

If the days are gone, tell them "Go!" and never mind.
But Thou, please stay, for none is as holy as Thou.

Everyone but the fish is fed up with his water.
For everyone without daily bread, his day is very long.

No one who is raw can understand the state of the cooked.
So the talk should be short. "That's all!"

Invisible Ladders

The Invisible Ladders

In the world there are invisible ladders,
leading step by step to the summit of heaven.
There is a different ladder for every group,
a different heaven for every path.
Each one is ignorant of the other's condition in this wide kingdom which
has no end or beginning.
This one is amazed at that one and wonders why he is happy,
while that one is astonished at this one and asks why he is amazed.
God's earth is spacious!: Every tree springs up from a certain soil.
The leaves and boughs sing thanks to God:
"What a fine, broad kingdom."
The nightingales hover around the fruiting blossom,
calling: "Give us some of what you drink."
This discourse has no end.

... Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi

The Last Samurai

"The Last Samurai" was shown on television tonight. It tells the story of an American soldier named Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) whose personal and emotional conflicts bring him into contact with the samurai in the wake of the Meiji Restoration in the Empire of Japan between 1876 and 1877.

He decides to help the new Meiji Restoration government train its first Western-style conscript army for a hefty sum. During the army's first battle he is captured by the samurai Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) and taken to the village of Katsumoto's son, where he soon becomes intrigued with the way of the samurai and decides to join them in their cause. His journal entries reveal his impressions about traditional Japanese culture, which almost immediately evolves to admiration.

Some have dismissed this movie as a Tom Cruise vehicle. Although I am not a big fan of the man, but the show has merits: values such as discipline, loyalty and sacrifice were clearly shown by the last samurai. Another is to live and die in honour. At the end of the movie, the Emperor asked Algren of Katsumoto's (the Emperor's teacher and the samurai's leader) death:

Emperor: "The samurai is not a man now. He is an idea. Tell me how he died"
Algren: "I will tell you how he lived"

Herein lies a great lesson for us. We value the moment we have now and live it to its utmost possibilities. We live our lives now as best as we can - in all aspects of it, such as in our service to God, in our service to mankind, in our service to the animal kingdom etc. It is being our best now, and that makes our eventual destiny the best that we can be and the best that we should be.

As human beings, we wish to leave behind legacies upon our transition into the next world. But these legacies are constituted by all of our best contributions that we make now. Our future which we are going to remember and what we will be remembered of by others, are what we do our best and honourably here and now. It is the 'small things' that we normally take for granted - and hence, it does not take all of our great efforts.

And beautifully, that is probably how we will be measured by God, The Almighty in our final account.

It is our best journey that we make now instead of which eventual destination we may/may not reach later...

Praises be to God!


"Oh my Lord!
I am poor, in my state of affluence;
Shouldn't I be the poorest, in my real state of poverty?

Oh my Lord!
I am weak, in my state of strength;
Shouldn't I be the weakest, in my apparent state of weakness?

Oh my Lord!
I am ignorant, in my state of learning;
Shouldn't I be the most ignorant, in my real state of ignorance?

Oh my Lord!
If any good appears on me - it is out of Thy Grace;
And if any evil appears on me – it is out of Thy Justice:
And You have proof and witness over me."

... Imam Ahmad ibn Ataillah As-Sakandari

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Hajj

In my very first entry, I quoted the following hadith:

"The example of the world and I is that of a traveller. Travelling in the afternoon heat, he stopped to rest under the shade of a tree for some moments. Then, he rose and left it."

Alhamdulillah! I have rested myself under that blessed tree for a while, and now I rise and left it. I am very much humbled with the lesson on Patience and the eventual reward from the Creator to those who faced challenges with such patience - and it has led me to think of the concept of pilgrimage - the movement to a better place, be it physical, emotional or spiritual.

I vaguely remembered speaking of this in last week's class and wish to share what Martin Lings wrote in his book "Mecca: From Before Genesis Until Now." It is a collection of letters he wrote of his personal experiences during Hajj. May it inspire those who have yet to perform the Hajj, insya-Allah:

"By the time I had drunk from the water of Zamzam, I was beginning to be more and more conscious of something which every pilgrim to Mecca is bound to feel in some degree or other. All Muslims are of course told of the Pilgrimage from their earliest years, and they see members of their family or of their neighbouring families set off for Mecca and hear them recount their experiences when they return.

But this voluntary rite, which the majority of Muslims are never able to perform, remains none the less a secret dimension in Islam, hidden from all those who have not actually explored it for themselves; and this dimension is the link between the present moment and the past. It is by no means only in virtue of the Pilgrimage that Islam is named the 'primordial religion', but the Pilgrimage is an eloquent demonstration of what these names imply, for it is not only a journey in space to the centre towards which one has always turned one's face in prayers, but also a journey in time far back beyond the missions of Muhammad, Jesus and Moses.

Consciousness of this 'regress' in time was heightened for most of us by the feeling of a return to childhood: all except those few who have made a special study of the rites suddenly find themselves snatched from a relative mastery of their religion and placed again in a state of utter dependence on others, quite helpless in themselves and having to be told what to do and say at almost every turn.

'This is not the Islam that I know' is a thought that must occur to many. But that is only incidental whereas the return to the far past imposes itself upon everyone even, and perhaps above all, on those who are familiar with the rites.

Strangely archaic, in pre-Islamic Arabic, is the pilgrim's acknowledgement of their overwhelming sense of the Presence of God, which impels them to greet Him, "Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik" (Here I am, O God, at Thy Service, Here I am at Thy Service) a greeting which is used at no other time and which can even replace that so characteristic feature of Islam: the greeting of Peace, and one is keenly aware that Mecca is the city of Abraham. Moreover, as we have already seen, unlike the other pillar of the religion, the Pilgrimage rites were not newly instituted at the outset of Islam. The Qur'an confirms them, but they were instituted by Abraham; and for him they were a return to the past. The return to him is thus only the starting point of the Pilgrimage, a point from which, as we shall see, it sets out into a still remoter past..."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Sometimes we are faced with days that we wish to forget - as a result of unpleasant things which happened to us. They may be experiences professional, social or personal in nature. When these things occur to us, all that we are and all that we have been are put to the fore. We are indeed opened to many causes of options to adopt - emotionally, physically or even orally abusive to regain the lost balance in that relationship. But what we have invested in ourselves in better days are put to the test: do we act according to guidance we acquired or by our own emotions?

It is easy to regurgitate in theory what one should or should not do, but it is a lot harder to go through it - to make those choices in a fit of anger, for example. Sure, Allah The Almighty has said the following, amongst others:
"Seek Allah's help with patient perseverance and prayer. It is indeed hard except for those who are humble." (2:45)

"Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere." (2:153)

"Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives, and the fruits of your toil. "But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who say, when afflicted with calamity, 'To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.' They are those on whom descend blessings from their Lord, and mercy. They are the ones who receive guidance." (2:155-157)

But, sometimes you cannot travel through this journey alone without some helping hands. And it is precisely during these situations in life, the warmth of human relations shines through. My kind, gracious and thoughtful friends brought me out to have ice-cream - to symbolically cool down from the "heat".

I went home thereafter and a few other verses from the Blessed Qur'an came to mind - and today, these verses were my saviour in pointing me to the right way to respond to this test:

"Oh you who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy. Vie in such perseverance, strengthen each other, and be pious, that you may prosper." (3:200)

"If good befalls you, it grieves them, and if an evil afflicts you, they rejoice at it; and if you are patient and guard yourselves, their scheme will not injure you in any way; surely Allah comprehends what they do." (3:120)

"Say: O my servants who believe! Be careful of (your duty to) your Lord; for those who do good in this world is good, and Allah's earth is spacious; only the patient will be paid back their reward in full without measure." (39:10)

SubhanAllah! I am grateful to be a Muslim.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Of Forgiveness

One day, a rich man came to Rabi'a al-'Adawiyyah and said, "For many years I've lived a very spoiled, arrogant and sinful life. If I repent now will God forgive me?"

Rabi'a replied, "No, but if God forgives you, you will repent."

The Shadow And The Sun

We discussed the following verse today about shadows and the sun. I perchanced upon a relevant picture. Look at it carefully. It is from the National Geographic and was taken directly above these camels in the desert at sunset. The camels are actually the little white lines in the picture. The big black camels you see are actually shadows. Masya-Allah!

“And when that sun, My countenance, is here
What can these shadows do but disappear?
Shadows are swallowed by the sun, and he
Who's lost in God is from himself set free;

Don't chatter about lost - be lost! Repent,
And give up vain, self-centred argument;
If one can lose the Self, in all the earth
No other being can approach his worth.”

Conference of the Birds, Farid ud-Din Attar

Tuesdays with the Birds

We spoke of this beautiful hadith tonight - one which gives us Hope.

Narrated by Anas (ra):

The Prophet said, "The believers will be kept (waiting) on the Day of Resurrection so long that they will become worried and say, "Let us ask somebody to intercede for us with our Lord so that He may relieve us from our place.

Then they will go to Adam and say, 'You are Adam, the father of the people. Allah created you with His Own Hand and made you reside in His Paradise and ordered His angels to prostrate before you, and taught you the names of all things. Will you intercede for us with your Lord so that He may relieve us from this place of ours? Adam will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking.' He will mention his mistakes he had committed, i.e., his eating off the tree though he had been forbidden to do so. He will add, 'Go to Noah, the first prophet sent by Allah to the people of the Earth.'

The people will go to Noah who will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking' He will mention his mistake which he had done, i.e., his asking his Lord without knowledge.' He will say (to them), 'Go to Abraham, Khalil Ar-Rahman.'

They will go to Abraham who will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking. He would mention three words by which he told a lie, and say (to them). 'Go to Moses, a slave whom Allah gave the Torah and spoke to, directly and brought near Him, for conversation.'

They will go to Moses who will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking. He will mention his mistake he made, i.e., killing a person, and will say (to them), 'Go to Jesus, Allah's slave and His Apostle, and a soul created by Him and His Word.' (Be: And it was.)

They will go to Jesus who will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking but you'd better go to Muhammad the slave whose past and future sins have been forgiven by Allah.'

So they will come to me, and I will ask my Lord's permission to enter His House and then I will be permitted. When I see Him I will fall down in prostration before Him, and He will leave me (in prostration) as long as He wills, and then He will say, 'O Muhammad, lift up your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask (for anything) for it will be granted:' Then I will raise my head and glorify my Lord with certain praises which He has taught me. Allah will put a limit for me (to intercede for a certain type of people) I will take them out and make them enter Paradise."

(Qatada said: I heard Anas saying that), the Prophet said, "I will go out and take them out of Hell (Fire) and let them enter Paradise, and then I will return and ask my Lord for permission to enter His House and I will be permitted.

When I will see Him I will fall down in prostration before Him and He will leave me in prostration as long as He will let me (in that state), and then He will say, 'O Muhammad, raise your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask, your request will be granted.'

"The Prophet added, "So I will raise my head and glorify and praise Him as He has taught me. Then I will intercede and He will put a limit for me (to intercede for a certain type of people). I will take them out and let them enter Paradise."

(Qatada added: I heard Anas saying that) the Prophet said, 'I will go out and take them out of Hell (Fire) and let them enter Paradise, and I will return for the third time and will ask my Lord for permission to enter His house, and I will be allowed to enter.

When I see Him, I will fall down in prostration before Him, and will remain in prostration as long as He will, and then He will say, 'Raise your head, O Muhammad, and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask, for your request will be granted.' So I will raise my head and praise Allah as He has taught me and then I will intercede and He will put a limit for me (to intercede for a certain type of people). I will take them out and let them enter Paradise."

(Qatada said: I heard Anas saying that) the Prophet said, "So I will go out and take them out of Hell (Fire) and let them enter Paradise, till none will remain in the Fire except those whom Quran will imprison (i.e., those who are destined for eternal life in the fire)."

The narrator then recited the Verse:-- "It may be that your Lord will raise you to a Station of Praise and Glory.' (17.79) The narrator added: This is the Station of Praise and Glory which Allah has promised to your Prophet. [Bukhari]

Saturday, April 7, 2007

A Walk To Remember

Caught this movie on the telly yesterday night. This is one of two Nicholas Sparks' books I know that made its way to the silver screen (the other being "The Notebook"). With Mandy Moore in the lead, one may accuse me of being teeny-booperish - but I do enjoy the movie nonetheless.

It is a high-school love story between the school's prankster (Landon) and the reverend's daughter suffering from terminal leukemia (Jamie). She died within the summer. As Jamie is hospitalized, Landon fulfills various wishes on Jamie's list, such as building her a telescope so she can see a comet. Through this process, Landon and Jamie learn more about the nature of love. The movie ends with Jamie's death, but only after the couple are married in the same chapel as was Jamie's deceased mother, the event that topped Jamie's wish list. Landon himself becomes a better person through Jamie's memory, achieving the goals that he set out to do, like she did.

Four years later when Landon visits Jamie's father as an aspiring medical student, he tells him that he is sorry he could not complete all of Jamie's wishes as he couldn't show her "the miracle" she wanted to see before dying. Her father then says, "She did. It was you."

I was told by a friend that such beautiful love stories does not exist in real life. But I think that such stories gives us inspiration to make the remaining of our lifes as beautiful as it should be.

In movies, we tend to be able to say everything that we wanted to say and do all the things that we wanted to do before death, but in real life, that is almost an impossibility for most of us. It is always a case of being slightly too late.

But precisely because movies reflects life, it should provide us a lesson to hasten to say and do all that we should say and do before it becomes "slightly too late". All the "there are so many things I wanted to say to you" should be said now. If we treasure our friends, if we love our families, if we value companionships - then I say: we need to convey that now to our friends or to our family members or to our companions.
In this journey of life, we cannot be sure where it will lead us. We may or we may not be blessed with those profound feelings or companionships in the next day or the next week. We should therefore seek for closure as soon and as often as is required: hence for example, tell our friends how you appreciate and treasure their friendships. Tell them now.

Another thing that sets me thinking: how would I live the remaining of my life if I knew that I was suffering from leukemia and will soon expire to the next world? Would I have attained the state of "tranquility" to embrace that blessing? Or as Jamie said when she told Landon of her sickness: "I don't want to find a reason to blame God".

How would you live your life, if you knew?
Do drop me a note.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Of Tranquility

You may have come across friends who have, for lack of a better choice of word, out-of-this-world experiences who are pious and more devoted in their services to God more than you and me combined. In this week alone, I came across two such persons.

Allah, The Almighty said in the Holy Qur'an:

"It is He Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the Believers, that they may add faith to their faith;- for to Allah belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is Full of Knowledge and Wisdom" [al-Fath 48:4].

"O soul whose heart is in (a state of) tranquility! "Come back thou to thy Lord,- well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter thou amongst My bondmen! Enter thou My Garden!" [al-Fajar 89:27-30]

Faith is about getting to that state of "rest" or "tranquility" as mentioned in the verses above. Only in a state tranquility is one enabled to increase his faith in his Lord. Such "tranquility" is a state where one has submitted oneself completely to his Lord, without question. It is the state of one's heart who has surrendered to his being in this life - well-pleased with himself and well-pleased with his Creator.

And only hearts who has reached this stage received Allah's personal invitation to enter his blessed Paradise as a reward for His Creations who have understood his position in all creations.

This is the spiritual state which Islam brings us. Depending on each individual's journey in their own lives, all that they do must aim towards this destination: be it through his prayers, his recitation of the Holy Qur'an, his zikr, his recitation of maulid or ratib etc, or, none at all.

These practices, whichever one subscribes, must lead towards a heart that is more at peace than his previous state before. Being "not in control" of yourselves is not the aim of spirituality, nor of Faith.


Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Meeting Place

Had tea with a good friend recently and we discussed general things amongst which the topic of definitive moments came to life. We all face huge questions in our lives which we cannot evade, for example: about staying or leaving, about friends and partners, about work and life - generally about all things which are not constant and not certain. These things muddle you up and they create raging commotions within - but it is life's natural disposition to have things change constantly.

This concept is consistent with life - and of life's journey, or as my blog's name indicate, Odyssey. Knowing who and what we are, gives us foundational strength to assist in steering our ship steadily in this testing voyage amidst turbulent seas.

Praise be to The Almighty, for as a Muslim, being Muslims makes that so much easier as our compass and astrolabe have been set right from the outset. As man, we can choose to be guided by such guidance or if we so choose, to figure the way out ourselves - but logically, the choice must be obvious. Admittedly, these may not be direct answers to our questions, but in the least, they provide guidance and framework within which we can begin to attempt to resolve our issues.

But another point is as obvious: that precisely due to such uncertainties in our lives, it brings us closer to Him - and sometimes due to not having much choice either way - to put more Faith in Him. SubhanAllah! Either way, in this circle of Divine Creation, we are always made to return to Him, either consciously or otherwise.

Whilst waiting for class to commence tonight, I was reading the poems of one of my beloved author: the late Martin Lings, or Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din as he is known in Muslim circles, who have left this world in late 2005. He was the preferred student of CS Lewis (author of "The Complete Chronicles of Narnia", "The Weight of Glory", "The Abolition of Man", "The Great Divorce", "The Screwtape Letters" to name a few) whilst reading English at Oxford and later became Lewis' close friend.

I have been meaning to share the immense joy that this great man has given me through his beautiful writings and such impeccable intellect - and would like to share his poem entitled: “The Meeting Place”. The reknown Hamza Yusuf had the opportunity to share the same podium with Martin Lings on several occasions, and MasyaAllah! - how it must have been to have these 2 great man sharing the same stage. On one occassion when Martin Lings was invited to speak about Shakespeare, Hamza Yusuf was so astounded by that speech that all he could do then was to recite this poem "The Meeting Place".

In order to do justice, I had to put the whole of what Hamza Yusuf said: "The secret of great literature is excellence in form and content. When we read great works, we feel humbled and enhanced at the same time. All great and imaginative literature is poetry in essence but metered language has a special power over our souls as thousands of years of verse in countless tongues prove. In his “Collected Poems”, Martin Lings humbles us with his form but more importantly he enhances us with his content. His poems are not for the dilettante but demand careful reading and re-reading before they begin to reveal something of their majesty and power.

As far as I can tell, "The Meeting Place" is as good as poetry gets. Stunning is the only word for it. That it is not anthologized in books of modern poetry is a crime against the craft and an affront to the poet.

Since discovering it, I have read it on many occasions alone and to friends in my home and over the phone always with the same result:- profound silence. Perhaps the reason it is not found in any anthologies is that only a Donne or Milton could produce such a piece in English and no one would believe a man born in the twentieth century could have written it. Lesser poems would pale at its side and it would embarrass what passes for poetry these days. But what about "The Muse" and "The Stars" and "Requiem"; they are all worth our time. Martin Lings has indeed made "for men some deep enduring utterance."

Herein is an extract of this beautiful poem by Martin Lings:

O blessed meeting place of land and sea,
Of earth and water, rock and ocean wave,
What is thy secret, that we find in thee,
From the first hour, the home that exiles crave?
Intimate art thou, yet mysterious,
And though thy welcome unreserved we have,
We must to thee confirm, not thou to us.

Many fly out, each in its orbit wheeling.
Their cries that on the rocks reverberate,
Unearthly strange, thy secret half revealing,
Proclaim to us that shores are ultimate,
That sea cliffs are the edge of the unknown.
But we, not they, thy secret bear innate
Within our hearts in fullness, we alone.

For man's first nature is a meeting place
Where two worlds intermingle, yet are not joined:
Towards the Infinte is turned his face,
And winged ones from the soul fly out beyond,
Nor come they back save yet again to go,
Drawn by the inward Deep. The Heaven respond:
Tides of the Spirit flow and ebb and flow.

The profoundness of his message in so little words truly moves me. And to my dear birds who gather every "Tuesdays with The Hoopoe", this poem summarises indeed our humble journey.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Of Guide And Guidance

In our usual book club meeting every Tuesdays, one of the issues raised was about the need for a guide. In the "Conference of the Birds", Farid ud-Din Attar described:

"Another bird said: 'Hoopoe, you're our guide.
How would it be if I let you decide?"

In reply of a long response, illustrated by various stories, Attar said:

"When once a slave accepts his Lord's control
And hears Him whisper in his inmost soul
He does not boast, no outward signs are shown
But when life's crises come - then he is known"

He continued in another related story:

"Forsake idolatry; if you do this
You are His slave, you cannot go amiss;
All else is pride. If you are neither slave
Nor God you're substanceless, however brave -
I call you 'No-one'; turn now, no-one, seek
Devotion's path, be humbled, lowly, meek.
... If you combine
True servitude with dignity your Lord
Will not deny your desired reward"

It seems quite clear to me that the benefits to be reaped are for those who submit. In another powerful lesson in history, Allah, The Almighty chose and prepared The Man first, in the form of our beloved Prophet (saw) before He made our deen known to us.

In the various conferences and seminars which I have chaired or presented, when this topic come about, the perennial question asked was: "What makes a teacher qualified for the job?". Whilst this is a valid question to be asked, it is strange that no students ever asked: "What makes a good student?"

Hence, this brings to mind another extract from a lecture I delivered in 2005:

Of Lovers

Love toward Allah, the Almighty is possible for the servant through obedience to the object of his love, through wanting nothing more than to be His slave and by lovingly carrying out His commands. In other words, it is possible by letting oneself fall like a drop into the ocean. Love is the ocean – and this ocean has no bottom, no shore, no beginning and no end...

What do we do now that the Prophet (saw) is not physically with us? The early generations of Muslims, owing to the strength of their desire for sacred knowledge, would journey to distant lands seeking a single prophetic hadith. This spirit has been captured in the Qur’an about Prophet Musa’s (as) journey with his young companion. Allah said:

“And behold! Moses said to his young companion, ‘I will not cease until I reached where the two seas meet, or I shall spend an exceptionally long time traveling” [al-Kahf 18:60]

If there ever existed a person who had no need to travel to seek knowledge, it was Prophet Musa (as), for Allah, the Almighty had spoken to him direct and given him the Torah in which all divine principles, then, had been revealed. Still, when Allah, the Almighty informed him of a man who had been favoured with knowledge, he set out with his young companion to find him: to learn from him.

We have also seen in what is popularly known as Hadith Jibril (as) that amongst the many lessons included therein, that the student do go to his teacher to obtain that knowledge face-to-face. It is not time spent scouring through hundreds of books or surfing the internet for information, but the immense blessings of obtaining your knowledge with an ijazah from your teacher that ensures your protection from harmful or useless knowledge.

Such knowledge must affect you positively – it must make you a better person. As Frithjof Schoun puts it in his book Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts:

“Knowledge saves only on condition that it enlists all that we are: only when it is a way which tills and which transforms, and which wounds our nature as the plough wounds the earth”

Intimate conversation by way of suhbah (companionship) is one of the most important practices in the way of Love. Love therefore is not developed from mere knowledge alone, but is acquired from being in the company of those who have tasted and experienced the sweetness of that Divine Love - hence the need for a spiritual teacher.

Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani said:

“You must work hard to ensure that your hearts are not locked out of the door of His nearness. Be sensible! You are getting nowhere. You must seek the company of a Shaykh who is learned in the law [hukm] and knowledge [`ilm] of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), and who will show you the way toward Him. Without seeing the successful [muflih], one cannot succeed. If a person does not seek the company of scholars who put their knowledge into practice [`ulama `ummal], he is a chicken from an egg abandoned by the rooster and the mother hen”

A spiritual teacher, or a Shaykh, is like our soul’s gardener. He takes you from where you are right now, and uses your inner materials as fertilizer to grow your heart. Parts of you - the garden - need weeding, some need hoeing, burning, planting, landscaping. The Shaykh represents your highest potential. By putting your trust in the Shaykh as a guide, you make the first step towards unifying with your Lord. On a personal basis, the Shaykh goes within you, sees the distinction between yourself and your True self, and helps you to initiate the process of unification. In another analogy, he is like a taxi-driver: you get on wherever you are, and the driver takes you where you want to go.

There are however responsibilities imposed on the seeker or the student. Good students makes good teachers. We give loyalty and love because this person serves us. We give this person what is needed to get the job done. Of course, the necessary ore needs to be there, but the students are also responsible for the kind of leadership they receive. In a very real sense, it is they who create the guide with their own sincerity and yearning.

If we attempt to go this way alone, we will only find our own ego. Trying to attain truth through books alone is like trying to fall in love with a static picture. But if we meet the divine love in others who have tasted and melted in that Love, if we stay close to those who have understood this Love, then we will begin to sense the Love behind all forms of love.