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 sense, meanings are indelibly human, insofar as it is we who assign meaning and value to the things around us. We find meaning in the universe. We assign value to it. And yet, we ourselves are a product of this universe. We are, as Carl Sagan put it, ‘made of star stuff’. We are indeed: ‘a way for the cosmos to know itself’.
So, our meanings exist within us, and thus within the wider cosmos. Indeed, we are a universe – a physical universe adorned with the gift of consciousness. We are the univese made conscious. We are a gateway between heaven and earth, a place for the manifestation of wonders! God says in His book:
‘And He taught Adam the Names, all of them’ (2:31)
And elsewhere, Hu says:
‘We shall show them our signs in the horizons and within themselves…’ (41:53)
Peace, one and all…
I really love this song. It’s by Rebel MC/Natty Congo and comes from the early ’90s. It has always lifted me, reminding me strongly of the beauty and majesty of the cosmos in which we all live, and through which we all travel. Enjoy and may all that you do this day be blessed.
Peace, one and all..
‘Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding’ (3:190)
One of the most pleasurable aspects of Spring is being able to pray in my garden. After zuhr prayer this afternoon, I sat on the lawn (such as it is), taking pleasure in just sitting there amidst the peace and stillness. I was simply breathing, not thinking of anything in particular – a rare thing in itself.
As I sat there, I found my eyes drawn to a small plant, swaying gently in the breeze, with shadows dancing playfully on the tiny green leaves. I gradually became aware of a thought bubbling up from somewhere deep inside: the constant dance of light and shade is slowly nurturing this fragile plant. If there were too much sunlight, the plant would be exhausted before it had had a chance to fully mature. If there were too much shade, the plant would never grown forth from its seed. As I sat there, I suddenly realised that both light and shade are each, in their turn, an expression of mercy. Indeed, it is precisely this subtle balancing of energies that expresses this mercy most completely.
Interestingly, the following Quranic verses came to mind as these thoughts whirled around in my head:
‘He has raised up the sky. He has set the balance so that you may not exceed in the balance: weigh with justice and do not fall short in the balance’ (Surah al-Rahman, or the Chapter of the All-Merciful, 55:7-9; translated by M A S Abdel Haleem)
The balance (al-Mizan in Arabic) is thus established through and maintained by, justice (the word used in this context is qist). The root from which qist is derived conveys notions of equity, fairness, justice, fair distribution, correctness, balance and scale (source), all of which seem particularly relevant.
More broadly, the Islamic tradition understands justice as the ability to put things in their proper place, in the correct proportions, at the proper time. The balance of justice, which upholds all things, is thus exquisitely proportioned Divine mercy. It is God’s rahma (‘mercy’) that bestows the necessary energies for growth and transformation – in just the right amount, at just the right moment. That these verses should form a part of Surah al-Rahman is no coincidence it seems. Firstly, the entire chapter calls us to reflect deeply on the natural world, and the Divine Reality (Haqq) upholding it.
Secondly, the central refrain of this chapter runs thus: ‘Which, then, of your Lord’s blessings do you both deny?’ (first occurring in 55:13, and then throughout). In other words, we are called to respond to the natural world, and the One sustaining it. And, the appropriate response to this finely balanced mercy can only be gratitude. Thankfulness (shukr in Arabic) is the essential key by which these meanings are unlocked. Moreover, if we cannot deny this deeply embedded balance and appropriateness, we should therefore strive to embody it, to become it. Reflecting on the natural world is thus to reflect on God’s own ‘adab‘, so to speak. We are thus taught, albeit implicitly, to model this divine adab, to let it fill us and become us, all the while realising that it is God’s own action within us that makes such human balance possible.
al-Rahman, meaning approximately ‘the All-Merciful’, or ‘the Compassionate’, is one of the most important Divine Names. Interestingly, the surah begins with the proportion inherent in our own creation:
‘al-Rahman, taught the Quran, created man, and taught him eloquence’ (55:1-4)
The anfas al-Rahman (or ‘Breath of the All-Merciful’) is the life-giving spirit which causes all things to exist. The Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said: ‘Do not curse the wind, for it derives from the Breath of the All-Merciful’ (quoted in William Chittick’s The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p.127).
If this is so in the physical world, it is also true in the spiritual world. Light and shade, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, are for our own inward growth, so that the rose-bush of the soul might also become like this small leaf. In the past, I imagined the darkness as a subversion of the universal order, but now I see that both are necessary. Both light and shadow are God-given; perhaps this is because duality is a necessary part of the physical universe. But, as I am learning, this duality is only apparent: it is only our limited perception that sees this way, dividing what is in fact an indivisible whole. In reality, this duality is an expression of a deeper unity – light and shade, and every other pairing of opposites, come from God, and both are held in exquisite balance by overflowing, transcendent rahma. Perhaps this is why, at this weekend’s retreat, as we spoke of the Divine Name al-Nur (the Light), I realised that this is not merely physical light, but the light of all things that shines in amidst the deepest ‘night’ of this world.
Here is a beautiful rendition of this wonderful surah, with accompanying text.
Surah al-Rahman, recited by al-Ghamdi
In closing, let me offer a beautiful quatrain of Mevlana, appropriately from this weekend’s Threshold Society retreat.
‘I am a mountain echoing the Friend.
I am a picture painted by the Beloved.
I am just a lock, but you hear His key turning.
Do you think any of these words are mine?’
(Quatrain 207, trans. Shaykh Kabir Helminski)
Adab Ya Rahman! Adab Ya Hu!
Update: 2krider’s blog has a wonderful post entitled: Adl vs Qist in Quranic Terminology
Peace, one and all…
As the previous few posts will testify, in recent days I’ve been watching vidoes about the universe, time and the possibility of extra dimensions. Although I am no scientist, I find such documentaries endlessly fascinating. This is partially because it is refreshing to look at such questions from different angles. That is, I enjoy these programmes as works of translation. In other words, they translate the (to me) largely unintelligble language of mathematics and physics into terms I can grasp much more easily; they speak in a tongue I can understand and hear. And, once I can begin to understand I can begin to converse with an idea: I can begin to formulate my own response.
Watching these programmes, I was struck by both the strange beauty of the universe we live in, and also by the difficulty (if not the impossibility) of coming to terms with it fully, in the raw so to speak. In other words, the scientists all seemed to struggle to convey what they were trying to say in ordinary language, resorting to the language of mathematics to offer complex descriptions of these proposed extra-dimensional realities. Reflecting on this, we seem to return once again to the issue of language, of methods for describing reality, as opposed to experiencing it. And, in order to fully understand scientific ideas, one must really attempt to learn scientific language. Without such an exercise in translation, discussion is impossible.
Another thing that struck me was the apparent similarity between the parallel universes of contemporary physicists and those of the mystics. In almost all of the world’s religious/mystical traditions complex descriptions of other worlds are found. Although there are important differences, they all seem to posit the existence of metaphysical realities beyond this one. The thought that occured to me was again one of language: to what extent, if any, are the descriptions of physicists and the descriptions of mystics the same? Are they both using their own very different languages to point towards the same ideas? Is such a comparison valid in any useful sense?
As I travelled home yesterday, I found myself reading Gerhard Bowering’s interesting article entitled Ideas of Time in Persian Sufism. In his article, Bowering refers to examples drawn from Sufi hagiographies of Muslim mystics of subverting the normal flow of time. In one source, Awhad al-Din Kirmani was apparently able to communicate individually with some 70,000 disciples in the course of a single night. Abu Hafs Suhrawardi was apparently shown in a dream by Ruzbihan Baqli how to ‘fold’ or ‘roll up’ time. Other examples of time-defying feats include, speed recitation of the Quran (tayy al-huruf), as well as bilocation. Of course, on one level, these tales are miracle stories, most probably designed to point towards the extraordinary status of such figures. They may also be seen as teaching stories, in which the saint in question performs such miraculous feats for a specific reason (i.e. there is a moral to the story). Perhaps there might also be another way of seeing such stories – as alluding to the idea that it is possible to move beyond this dimension? Or, put another way, that it is possible to step beyond conventional time, into a timeless moment. Perhaps this is what is being alluded to by the phrase ibn waqtihi (or ‘son of his moment’)?
At any rate, after watching these videos, the question of meaning remains. If true, what do these ideas mean? For sure, as the You Tube comments reveal, there are many who feel strongly about the existence of extra dimensions: some see these things as proof for the existence of God; others see it as proof that our notions of God are an attempt to anthropomorphise this strange universe (or multiverse) in which we live. Perhaps, in one sense, in a multiverse of infinite possibilities, an infinite number of meanings are possible. In other words, there still remains one fundamental question for each and every one of us: what does this mean to me? And further, how will I make use of this understanding?
Thus, it seems, the why? and what now? remain to be explored individually. For myself, questions of universal reality, personal meaning and moral imperative always bring me back to Surah al-`Asr, one of the shortest and most thought-provoking chapters from the Quran:
‘By (the Token of) Time (through the ages), Verily Man is in loss, Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy’ (103:1-3, trans Y. A. Ali)
In our immediate context, this surah provides me with an orientation towards these questions and a method of practical action. We should explore time; we should seek to learn about the universe’s hidden secrets. And yet, it is individual faith and action that represents purpose. Moreover, that purpose is communal: truth should be shared mutually, as should the inner qualities of patience and of constancy.
Wa akhiru da’wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen.
Peace, one and all…
Following on from the previous two posts, I found a very interesting BBC documentary on parallel universes. It makes for interesting viewing (and also made my head hurt)!
Peace, one and all…
Following on from the previous post, here’s an excellent and interesting video of Carl Sagan. In this video he explores the 4th dimension.
The 4th Dimension
Peace, one and all…
Here’s an interesting video I found on You Tube, on the 10th Dimension. Enjoy!
The 10th Dimension