Peace, one and all…
‘And He is with you wherever you are’ (Quran 57:4)
He is with me, as I gaze out over these hills and valleys. He is with me as I stare in awe at the beauty of the night sky. He is with me, here in the deepest recesses of my heart, owner and shaper of every ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘mine’. He is with me, as my living humanity arrives in each new moment, His freely given gift to and in me.
He is with me in the depths of my soul, at the very roots of my unique individuality. He is with me there, in that space, as that which makes me most fundamentally what I am. He is with me, as I am with Him, whether ‘I’ am aware of it or not. He is with me as I walk the many roads of this world, standing here by my side, and also within the centre of my heart.
He is with me wheresoever I go and whatsoever I see, the Ever-Faithful Companion, the Ever-Loving Friend, the Solid Ground of All That Is
Peace, one and all…
‘Everything is perishing except His face’ (28:88)
Every single thing I own will one day pass into another’s hands. Every single thing I will ever achieve, will one day find its place within the grave. Every single thing I am will one day pass out of existence, like a candle extinguished at the arrival of the dawn.
Every thought will vanish. Every desire will fade. Every possession will leaveme. Every ability will disappear. This used to fill me with dread. But as I encounter this prospect here, in this new moment, I find my heart comforted. Wherever I go, I am not that. Whatever I possess, I am not that. Whatever others believe of me, I am not that. Whatever I believe of myself, I am not that. If I am not those things, if I am no thing, then I can become all things, I can become any thing.
Peace, one and all…
‘And He is with you wherever you are’ (57:4)
He is with me, in each test and trial, in each thing as yet unfaced, in each truth as yet unreconciled. He is with me when I refuse, when I turn away, when I stumble and fall. He is with me in every self-made darkness, and in every unhelpful deed. He is with me, in silent witness, with every ache of this all too human heart. He is with me, when I offer life less than it deserves, and less than it has given me.
He is with me at the lowest ebb of my soul, as He is with me at its mightiest flood. He is the Water and Earth and Sunlight of my life, and the Living Air I breathe. Where can I go but to Him? Where can I wander but in Him?
Peace, one and all…
‘And He is with you wherever you are’ (Quran 57:4)
He is with us in our broken-ness, in our failures, in all our struggles and strains. He is with us when we stray, when we mess things up, when we make mistakes. He is with us when we are heart broken, when our lives lose purpose and meaning and hope. He is with us when we are suffering, when we are in deep sorrow and anguish.
He is with us when we fall…
He is with us as we rise once more…
Peace, one and all…
A fascinating exploration of the opening chapter of the Quran.
Surah al-Fatihah (Sahih International translation)
In the name of Allah , the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.
[All] praise is [due] to Allah , Lord of the worlds -
The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful,
Sovereign of the Day of Recompense.
It is You we worship and You we ask for help.
Guide us to the straight path -
The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor,
not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.
Peace, one and all…
In recent posts, our readings have begun to focus on the question of will (Kabir Dede on the Will; Meister Eckhart: Counsels on Discernment 3). This question is also brought to the fore in our current portion of the Evrad-i Serif.
Our readings are all drawn from the Quran, and although these verses explore the question of will in interesting and forceful ways, it is their particular arrangement that is especially noteworthy.
Our present portion opens thus:
‘Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, truly, you would have seen it humble itself and break apart out of awe of God. Such are the parables We offer to human beings, so that they might reflect.
God is He other than whom there is no god; the One who knows what is hidden and what is manifest, as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind: Hu, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful.
God is He other than whom there is no deity: the Supreme Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Inspirer of Faith, the Preserver of Security, the Exalted in Might, the One who subdues wrong and restores right, the One to whom all greatness belongs! Utterly remote is God, in limitless glory, from anything to which people may ascribe a share in His divinity!
Hu is God, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of form! To Hu belong the Most Beautiful Names. All that is in the heavens and on earth declares His praises and glory: for He is the Exalted in Might, the All-Wise!
(Surah al-Hashr 59:21-24. You can listen to a beautiful recitation of these verses below)
These verses declare the infinite and incomparable majesty of God, in forceful and evocative terms. All power, authority, knowledge and beauty belong solely to Him: anything we possess is given to us by Him, and is effectively on loan to us. Even though we may possess beauty or knowledge or power, it is always and in each instance His. Thus, our will to power, to learn and to perceive beauty are really His. In a strange, paradoxical way the more we understand our abilities as belonging to Him, the more fully ‘ours’ they become. Or, perhaps, the more clearly we understand His absolute ownership, the more authentically we can enter into our own partial occupancy, our own derivative ownership. The more we fully we realise our own weakness, the more fully we can enter into His strength. The more we are able to take back our own projections, and the more fully we are able to let Him be God, the more human we are able to be.
Ibn Arabi makes this clear throughout his writings. This example is particularly instructive:
‘Your attributes are His. Without doubt, your appearance is His appearance. What is in you is in Him. Your before is His Before; your after is His After; your essence is His essence – without Him entering into you or you entering in Him, for ‘Everything is perishing but His Face’ (Surah al-Qasas 28:88)’ (Ibn Arabi, Kitab al-Ahadiyyah)
The Evrad then explores this strange paradox by offering these subsequent verses:
‘And to everyone who is conscious of God, God always prepares a way of emergence,
and provides for him/her in ways he/she could never imagine; and for everyone who places trust in God, God is sufficient. For God will surely accomplish His purpose: truly, for all things God has appointed an appropriate measure’
(Surah al-Talaq 65:2-3)
‘And so, be patient, even though they who are bent on denying the Truth would all but kill you with their eyes whenever they hear this reminder, and though they say, ‘See, most surely he is a madman!’
For this is nothing less than a reminder to all the worlds.’
(Surah al-Qalam 68:51-52)
‘…to everyone who will to walk a straight way.
But you cannot will it unless God, the Sustainer of all the Worlds, wills it’
(Surah al-Takwir 81:28-29)
To be truly conscious of God is to realise that all things are His; at best, we are merely guests, even in the depths of ‘our’ own being. Understanding that our will is already encompassed in His will is both deeply humbling and deeply liberating, freeing us from the urge to control life. This awareness is a deeper ‘way of emergence’, a deeper liberation from the limitations of our workaday egos.
Striving to live this way is also important because it demonstrates that we live in a magical universe, in a realm of unlimited possibilities and of infinite potentiality. We are provided for in ways we could never imagine, both within and beyond ourselves. Living in a world of infinite potentiality requires that we strive to trust in God, and realise that the Divine is absolute beneficence, and absolute sufficiency.
‘…for all things has God appointed an appropriate measure’ is an interesting phrase. It reminds me that that ‘my’ will has a limit, beyond which lies His will. It also reminds me that the trials and tribulations of my own life are measured out for me: I am challenged, but never overwhelmed, stretched but never obliterated. Moreover, this ‘I’ within me that demands and urges is itself limited. There are deeper levels of being within me, beyond this passing ego; there are hidden depths below the shallow waters of conventional reality.
‘And so, be patient…’. Wait in patient readiness for all that Hu might work within and beyond us. Wait in calm alertness for His unfolding will. ‘For this is nothing less than a reminder to all the worlds’. It is a reminder to the universe around me. It is a reminder to the universe within.
‘And to everyone one of you who wills to walk a straight way. But you cannot will it unless God, the Sustainer of all the worlds, wills it’. It is His will that is primary. Our will only becomes a reality when it harmonises with His. This underlines the need for harmonisation, with God, with myself and everything around me. And, as Meister Eckhart makes clear in his counsels, this involves an inner emptying, a giving-over of ourselves to Him, in Him. In Counsel 20, Meister Eckhart says this:
‘And therefore, if you wish to receive your God worthily, be sure that your superior powers are directed toward your God and that your will is seeking His will, that you are intending Him, and that your trust is based on Him’ (Counsels on Discernment, 20)
Merciful One! Join our wills to Yours. Help us to will for ourselves what You will for us. Help us to accept life in all its diversity. Help us to see that all things come from You, for our betterment.
Peace, one and all…
In our first readings the interconnected themes of devotion and obedience emerged very strongly. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how these two themes might be connected, and to do that I’d like to start with a verse of the Quran. In Surah al-Baqara we find the following passage:
‘The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination’ (2:285)
In the opening sentence of this passage, we encounter the Prophet of God (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) and his complete openness before the Divine. His devotion and obedience to God had rendered his heart capable to accepting all that the Beloved chose to reveal therein. It also rendered him fully open to all the wisdom of the prophets of old (alaihim al-salam). The following saying of the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) is important in this light:
‘Seek knowledge, for it is the intimate friend (khalil) of the believer. Moreover, forbearance is the minister of knowledge, intellect its guide, action its pivot, benevolent character its father, gentleness its brother, and patience is the general of its armies’ (Related by al-Hakim)
Elsewhere, the following saying is recorded:
‘Pursue knowledge even to China, for its pursuance is the sacred duty of every Muslim’ (Related by Ibn Abd al-Barr)
Although the outward details of their respective revelations differed, the same inner reality permeated all of them – a complete stillness in God’s presence. By referring to ‘the believers’ this verse also shows that this openness in God is not just the preserve of the prophets: we are all potentially capable of such a relationship, and devotion and obedience are the means of achieving it. Indeed, if the prophets represent the true spiritual potential of humanity, such openness is our human birthright.
Our verse then proceeds… ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers’. To truly live in oneness, we must be open to whatever wisdom comes our way. We must be ready to make use of, to integrate, the collective spiritual wisdom of humankind. Moreover, though we can all be rightly proud of our respective traditions, insofar as they lead us out into His infinity, there is a sense here that the path to God requires us to be fully open. Furthermore, not only do we have to be open, we also have to rid ourselves of our common tendency to exclusivity, of saying ‘my way is better than his way’. Of course, to follow a tradition we need to believe in it as our way to God, but we also have to understand that God’s way is broader than our human minds can imagine. In other words, we have to be devoted to, and obedient to, God Himself.
The last section of this verse is particularly significant:
And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination’
This sentence categorises the true believers as those who say: ‘we hear and we obey’, or sami`na wa a`tana in Arabic. To truly hear the voice of God within the depths of our soul, we have to be present, we have to be fully there in each new moment. In other words, hearing implies a devoted listening, a patient waiting on God, for all that He might choose to reveal within our souls. Devoted listening is a form of obedience, and the more we obey, the more we engage in conscious relationship with the Divine. This verse concludes with a prayer for forgiveness. Devoted listening and active, human obedience to the Truth are means of asking for forgiveness. The more fully we enter into a relationship with God, the deeper we come to understand our human shortcomings. A Dervish is someone who waits at His door, in each new moment and circumstance. It is no accident, therefore, that today’s Evrad-i Serif passage contains this prayer:
9. I ask God’s forgiveness for my mistakes (literally, ‘shortcomings’).
More deeply, from the perspective of oneness, our prayers for forgiveness are given to us by the Divine. In other words, devoted listening and obedience are a kind of ‘virtuous circle’ in which an ever-increasing spiritual charge can be built up. And it is this charge that Meister Eckhart goes on to examine with such subtlety. True obedience is an emptying of our will in His, a forgoing of our sense of control in the Hand of His greater working:
‘In true obedience there should be no trace of ‘I want it so, or so,’ or ‘I want this or that,’ but there should be a pure going out from what is yours’
Although we should take all of our worries and anxieties to God, just as we should take all of our hopes and joys to Him, true and complete obedience is an emptying in Him, a complete giving-over of ourselves to Him. Those who are able to give themselves so completely to God are thus enabled to stand with the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) and to say they have ‘believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord’
May the Beloved give us all the ability to turn to Him truly, in work and in rest, in need and in safety. Ya Rahman!
Peace, one and all…
In one the verses dealing with Ramadan, the Quran makes explicit the purpose behind fasting:
‘O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become God-conscious’ (2:183)
This is a very revealing verse, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it connects the ritual fast of Ramadan with the rest of human sacred history. Although the details differ, the religious institution of fasting is probably as old as humankind itself. Fasting is thus part of our wider human heritage, and in that sense, Islamic teaching builds on the innate religiosity of the human being (expressed as ‘the primordial faith’, or din al-fitra, in other texts). Islam is thus part of a much longer sacred history.
Secondly, fasting is said to activate the quality of God-consciousness. Why? To answer this question, it is helpful to understand the word behind ‘God-conscious’, or taqwa. Taqwa is an essential Islamic concept, and derives from a root meaning ‘to guard against, preserve, shield and prevent’. It is often translated as ‘fear’, and refers to a cautious awareness of the presence of God, an awareness that shields one from actions that God would disapprove of. In other words, taqwa is a state of being, a state of vigilant awareness.
But why should fasting develop this quality so particularly? From the perspective of oneness, fasting reminds us in a direct, immediate manner that we are more than intellectual beings. We exist on many different levels – intellectual, physical, spiritual and emotional – and God-consciousness must be activated at each level to be made whole, to be made one. Fasting is thus a time for all-round awareness of ourselves in the presence of God, of all of those automatic behaviours that the normal course of life often serves to obscure.
Ramadan is thus a time of spiritual reflection. As such, during this Ramadan, I will be undertaking a comparative reading of two key spiritual texts, the Counsels on Discernment by Meister Eckhart and the Mevlevi Wird, arranged by Mevlana. As we shall hopefully see, these two works complement each other in very interesting ways, offering some important insights into spiritual growth in God. My basic plan is to post a passage from Meister Eckhart and then follow it with a passage from the Mevlevi Evrad-i Serif, before offering any insights that might emerge, insha Allah.
Peace, one and all…
In a beautiful and oft-quoted verse, the Quran states:
‘Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, – any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve’ (2:62; see also 5:69).
I have always seen a remarkable openness in this verse, a reaching out beyond narrow human boundaries. Indeed, it has always been one of the most impressive verses in the entire Quran, especially in the way it extends the promise of redemption and salvation to all who believe. I also find the same spirit of openness in the following passage:
‘Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching’ (16:125, trans. Ali, with slight adaptation)
In this beautiful passage, Muslims are encouraged to share their faith in a gentle, and open-handed way. And, even though Muslims have sometimes strayed from such spiritual generosity, the ideal remains and continues to inspire real, human dialogue.
As I grow older, I begin to see ever more clearly that true dialogue can only occur through the development of human relationships. Indeed, when such relationships exist, communication moves beyond mere surface ‘dialogue’, to a place where our differences cease to be something that divides us; they become the ‘spice’ that makes conversation enriching. In other words, true dialogue is a means of soul-sharing.
The Sufi tradition places great emphasis on such relationships – describing them by the prophetic term suhbah (or sohbet in Turkish, and related languages). Sohbet is a means of both spiritual companionship and spiritual conversation – a way of being with our companions that moves beyond these surface differences. It is in this spirit that I wish to offer a personal exploration of some key aspects of the worldview of Islam – as a means of sharing, beyond sectarian and religious labels, from one human being to all those who happen to read these words.
In talking to others, I have occasionally encountered those who feel that the Islamic tradition has little to say of love. According to this view, although the Quran and prophetic traditions spend a great deal of time extolling the power, might and majesty of God, they say almost nothing of Divine love. Although the Quran contains numerous references to God’s kindness and compassion, as well as to His maintenance of the Universe, it presents these as attributes of a distant, cosmic ruler – Who is so exalted as to make any real relationship impossible. On reflection, I think this idea comes from a misunderstanding of the conceptual universe of Islam. In particular, it arises from a misunderstanding of how Islam conceptualises compassion, mercy and love.
A brief example might help to illustrate my point more clearly. In Surah al-Dhariyat, we find the following verse:
‘And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me’ (51:56)
Without understanding the full range of meanings behind the key term ‘worship’ (`ibadah), it is easy to misunderstand this verse. Indeed, it has often been seen as a command for mere robotic service, as though God requires human automata. When the semantic range of ibadah is explored, it then becomes possible to have a much fuller understanding of the Quran’s vision of life’s pupose (this is something I hope to do soon, insha Allah). Furthermore, even those verses that refer to Divine Immanence, are sometimes believed to paint a picture of God as an angry watcher.
Personally, this has not been how I have experienced God, as a Muslim. Indeed, this picture is not one most Muslims would recognise I suspect. So, where, then, does this idea come from? Whilst, in part, this may derive from older visions of Islam as a dry, law-bound faith, I also think this misunderstanding comes from a lack of familiarity with the conceptual universe of Islam, as broadly conceived. So, with these things in mind, I’d like to explore a key aspect of Islam’s picture of the Divine – namely, Rahma.
Arabic words are based on trilateral roots, which give the basic meaning of the term. The root of rahma, ra ha ma, has the following basic meanings:
‘the womb, blood relatives; mercy, kindness, compassion, pity, sympathy, to show mercy, to show compassion, to let off, to be kind, forgiveness, bounty, good fortune, blessing’ (Badawi and Haleem, Arabic-English Dictionary of Quranic Usage, p.354)
Forms derived from this root occur some 342 times throughout the Quran. As we can see, therefore, it is an important concept. Indeed, every chapter but one opens with the phrase Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful). As we can see, there are two basic senses: family ties and relationships (expressed in Quranic parlance as the ‘ties of the womb’) and compassion.
This connection between mercy and the ties of kinship is made explicit in an interesting tradition, related on the authority of Abdullah ibn Abu Awfa:
‘The Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said, ‘Mercy is not conferred on people when there is someone among them who severs ties of kinship’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 63)
Those who deliberately weaken the bonds of family love are thus deprived of mercy in their own lives, leading to a further hardening of the heart. Conversely, as this statement attributed to Ibn Umar makes clear, maintaining the ‘ties of the womb’ encourage the outpouring of divine grace and mercy:
‘Ibn Umar said: ‘If someone fears his Lord and maintains his ties of kinship, his term of life will be prolonged, he will have abundant wealth and his people will love him’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 58)
Here, rahma is decisively linked with love. Indeed, this mercy is the intimate, personalised and life-enhancing outpouring of God’s love. Strengthening the bonds of family strengthens love, and loving-kindness allows the development of deep, spiritual bonds. It is only through rahma that one can acquire love; it is only through love (or perhaps we might say manifested mercy) that true spiritual companionship (suhbah) can emerge. Perhaps this is why religious communities are often depicted as being spiritual families, as the context in which rahma and love can grow beyond their primary genetic roots.
Islamic ideas of mercy contain love – indeed, we might say that they point to the embodiment of love in all its fullness. Compassion is presented as the embodiment of love…testifying to a greater love beyond. In a number of significant hadith, the relationship between rahma and parental love is given further nuance. In one such tradition, Anas ibn Malik relates the following story:
‘A woman came to Aisha (God be pleased with her) and Aisha gave her three dates. She gave each of her children a date and kept one date for herself. The children ate the two dates and then looked at their mother. She took the date and split it and gave each child half a date. The Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) came and Aisha told him about it. He said, ‘Are you amazed at that? Allah has granted her mercy because of her mercy towards her children’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 89)
This mother’s tender concern for her children’s well-being is here underlined as the very embodiment of rahma. In the English-speaking world, we would use the word ‘love’ to refer to the quality that drives a mother’s compassion. Abu Hurayra relates another interesting hadith:
‘I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, Allah divided mercy into one-hundred parts and He kept ninety-nine parts with Him and sent down one part upon the earth, and because of that, this one single part, His creaures are merciful to each other, so that even the mare lifts up its hoofs away from its baby animal, lest it should trample on it. (Bukhari, Book 73, 29).
This hadith adds to our understanding of rahma, which is again connected to parental love. In this case, the way a mare cares for its foal is also described as mercy. That is, compassion is an innate quality given to all living creatures – in a sense, mercy is the default setting of creation. We are then told that this universal mercy is merely one small aspect of God’s compassion for creation. Again, what the Islamic tradition describes as rahma, the English-speaking world would understand as love.
It is this compassion, this loving-kindness, that should form the basis of every action. Qurra ibn Iyas relates the following hadith:
‘A man said, ‘Messenger of Allah, whenever I slaughter a sheep, I show mercy to it (by using a sharp knife to ensure the least suffering)’ – or the man said, ‘I show mercy to the sheep when I slaughter it.’ He said twice, ‘If you showed mercy towards the sheep, Allah will show mercy to you’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 373)
Performing each action from a state of loving-kindness brings a greater, deeper love from God. A number of ahadith underline this reciprocity:
Abu Hurayra said: ‘The Messenger of God (as) kissed al-Hasan ibn Ali while al-Aqra’ ibn Habis al-Tamimi was sitting with him. Al-Aqra’ said, ‘I have ten children and I have never kissed any of them.’ The Messenger of Allah (as) looked at him and said, ‘Whoever does not show mercy will not be shown mercy’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 91).
Abu Hurayra said: ‘The Prophet (as) said, ‘Anyone who does not show mercy to our children nor acknowledge the right of our old people is not one of us’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 353)
A’isha, may Allah be pleased with her, said: ‘A bedouin came to the Prophet (as) and said, ‘Do you kiss you children? We do not kiss them.’ The Prophet (as) said, ‘Can I put mercy in your hearts after Allah has removed it?’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 90)
The connection between rahma and love is again given in this early commentary on a Quranic verse:
Urwa commented on the verse, ‘Lower the wing of humility to them out of mercy’ (17:24) (It means): ‘Do not refuse them anything they love’ (Adab al-Mufrad no. 9, Ath 5)
Drawing these things together, we can see that rahma denotes loving-kindness, a mercy that flows directly from love. Perhaps we might go so far as to describe rahma as embodied love, as love made manifest, the word made flesh. Understanding the earthly operation of rahma also provides us a semantic context within which to approach more metaphysical expressions. One report has this to say:
‘Abu al-Harith al-Kirmani said: ‘A man said to Abu Raja, ‘I greet you and I ask Allah to join us both of us together in the abiding Abode of His mercy (rahma)’. Abu Raja said, ‘Is anyone capable of that? What is the abiding abode of His mercy?’ The man said, ‘The Garden’. He said, ‘That is not correct’. The man said, ‘Then what is the abiding abode of His mercy?’ He said, ‘The Lord of the Worlds’.
In other words, the true abode of divine mercy is God Himself. The true Source of Rahma is al-Rahman. This makes for a very interesting reading ofSurah al-Rahman, the 55th chapter of the Quran:
‘The Most Merciful (al-Rahman), taught the Quran, created Man, [And] taught him eloquence’ (55:1-4).
Ahmad ibn Ajiba (d. 1809), in his spiritual commentary on these verses, has this to say:
‘The mercy thus comprised by the Name of al-Rahman has two aspects. One is Essential, inseparable from the Divine Essence, and the other Attributive, by which the sustenance of creation comes about and God shows mercy to those He will … Since the Quran is among God’s greatest gifts, He relates the act of its teaching to His very Essence. Indeed, the Quran is itself a theophany of of the Attributes of the Divine Essence, of Its mysteries and Its acts, and it unveils these spiritual realities to anyone whose inner vision God Most High has opened’ (The Immense Ocean, trans. M A Aresmouk & M A Fitzgerald, 2009, page 11).
Elsewhere in the Quran we read the following verse:
‘Say, ‘Call upon Allah or call upon the Most Merciful (al-Rahman). Whichever [nam] you call to Him belong the Names Most Beautiful’ (17:110)
In this verse, al-Rahman is set beside the Name Allah, the All-comprehensive Name (Ism al-Jami`). In other words, compassion, mercy and love flow from the very Essence of God – suggesting that Creation itself represents the manifestation of loving-kindness, of embodied love. In this regard, it is worth closing with the following profound hadith qudsi (or sacred tradition):
‘Indeed My mercy and compassion (rahma) prevail over My anger’ (Ibn Arabi, Mishkat al-Anwar, 47)
Beloved, gather us all within the folds of Your mercy. Enliven every heart with Your overflowing love!
Peace, one and all…
Your lovers have come drunk from alast,
their heads giddied by the wine of alast.
They drink on, deaf to all counsel,
for their worship of wine goes back to alast (see Quran 7:172).
Najm al-Din Razi Daya, The Path of God’s Bondsmen
Peace, one and all…
‘Know, O seeker of the mysteries of Reality! What is intended by the blessed olive tree is ‘knowledge’, and by the oil thereof, ‘knowledge of God’, which is obtained through the perfection of knowledge, just as the oil is acquired from the olive tree’
(Isma`il Anqarawi, The Lamp of Mysteries, referring to 24:35)
Peace, one and all…
A fascinating lecture on the notion of covenant in the Quran and Islamic thought, by Joseph Lumbard.
Peace, one and all…
I recently came across an interesting article recently, courtesy of my facebook friend Ghoufran Warlow, in which NASA scientists share their discovery of an immense cloud of water vapour in space, some 12 billion light years away! This cloud contains enough water, it is said, to give each and every one of us the water supply of the entire world 20,000 times over! Ya Allah!
My mind finds it difficult to grasp the scale of such a cloud – cloud is such a small word to describe such vastness – let alone its distance from us. This universe is so vast. Its size alone exhausts the human intellect. Looking out into the night sky, I am reminded of the Quran’s words:
‘Blessed is He in whose hand is the dominion, and He has power over all things – who created death and life to test which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving – who created seven heavens in layers. You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return [your] vision [to the sky]; do you see any breaks? Then return [your] vision twice again. [Your] vision will return to you humbled while it is fatigued’ (67:1-4)
The universe is so very large, and we are so very small. Gazing out into the night sky this way is an important corrective. How can I remain arrogant in the face of such vastness? How can I puff myself up with pride in the face of God’s Absolute Majesty, Hu’s Absolute Reality? How can we continue to squander this precious gift of life, in so many acts of pointless selfishness? Carl Sagan expresses this sense well, in this profound and levelling video.
May all that you do this day be blessed. May you be blessed with healing love in all that you become and do.
Wa akhiru da`wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen.
Peace, one and all…
In a beautiful passage, the Quran speaks of the collection and distribution of the compulsory alms-tax (the zakat):
‘Alms are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect and for bringing hearts together and for freeing captives and for those in debt and for the cause of God and for the traveler – an obligation [imposed] by God. And God is Knowing and Wise’ (9:60)
This verse has long been understood as being the basis of an organised collection system, by which that alms-tax is collected. Whilst this is certainly true, a closer examination draws out a number of deeper connections.
Although this compulsory alms tax is most often described as zakat (from a root meaning ‘purification’), in this verse a different term is used. If we look a little closer at this verse, we can draw this out more clearly. The word used here is sadaqat, literally meaning ‘charity’. Significantly, this word derives from a root denoting truth and truthfulness. Thus, we can say that charity is a practical means of engaging with truth, of manifesting truth in everyday life. To engage in regular charity is thus a means of visualising and actualising truth. Moreover, given that this verse refers to the compulsory zakat, it forcefully underlines two further points: all that we own comes to us from God, of ourselves we own nothing. Secondly, a just and equitable, organised tax system is a collective means of manifesting this truth. Religion is not merely a matter of private observance, it is also concerned with social justice.
‘Sadaqa is only for … bringing hearts together and for freeing captives and for those in debt and for the cause of God and for the wayfarer…’
Charity is thus a means of bringing peoples together, and for the cause of God, which is here tied to freeing humanity from captivity and debt.
Sadaqa is thus connected with love, with truth, in a spiritual, personal and collective sense. It is therefore an aspect of justice, particularly in the social realm. To give charity to others, in an arranged, socially accepted manner, is to do justice – and to do justice is to manifest the equilibrium of love. Indeed, the more we realise this, the more deeply we are able to access truth, to plumb the depths of sadaqa. Charity is thus a means of approaching Truth.
Charity is a function of our humanity, and is a means of enhancing relationships with others. This is why the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) speaks of sadaqa in terms of its social utility, as in the following examples:
‘Charity given to one’s relatives twice multiplies its reward’ (al-Tabarani)
‘A kind word is charity’ (al-Bukhari and Muslim)
‘God has never dignified anyone due to his ignorance, nor humiliated anyone due to his knowledge. And wealth is never diminished as a result of charity’ (al-Daylami)
‘Two qualities are never coupled in a believer: miserlinenss and immorality’ (al-Bukhari)
This verse also points towards a deeper, existential truth: we are utterly dependent upon God in every aspect of our lives, in each new moment and place. This becomes clear when we look again at this verse:
‘Sadaqat is only for al-fuqara’ and al-masakin…’
Fuqara’ means those who are absolutely poor, without any other means, whilst masakin means those who are destitute, and therefore weak. Elsewhere, the Quran describes this poverty and weakness in interesting terms:
‘O mankind! You are those in need of God (literally, ‘you are the fuqara’), and God is the Free of Need (al-Ghani), the Praiseworthy (al-Hamid)’ 35:15
In other words, poverty and utter dependence are the hallmarks of the human relationship with God. Not only does God give us all that we need, we are also dependent upon God in each new moment. That the verse before us should come in Surah Tawba, or the Chapter of Repentance, is also significant – especially when it is remembered that classical Sufism understood tawba as the first stage of the spiritual journey.
Our poverty and God’s overflowing grace forms a relationship, and our breath is a living moment by moment transcription of this reality. That is, we can experience this now, in our very breath. Mevlevi tradition uses breathing techniques in its formal zikr, especially connected to the testimony of faith (the shahadah) – la ilaha illa Allah. With each exhalaltion, the practice is to breathe la ilaha (‘there is no god…’) as a means of letting go of every limitation, of realising our utter contingency. Each inhalation is accompanied by illa Allah (‘except God’) – in which our chest fills with God-given breath, with an organic awareness of Divine presence. This verse alludes to this process: we acknowledge our dependence on God, we literally breathe it by emptying and we receive a new in-breath, from the Infinite Tresuries of God, al-Ghani al-Hamid.
May God help us become open handed! May God help us realise the truth of our dependence upon Him, in each new new moment and circumstance.
Wa akhiru da`wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen.
Peace, one and all…
‘Indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant’ (Quran 33:72)