“But he cried through the depths of darkness…” (21:87-8)

by Imraan

Yesterday I found myself reading these verses by Rumi, the masterful Persian mystic (from the Islamic tradition), and felt that I had to share them.

Just in case you didn’t know, ‘Allah’, is the Arabic term for God (the same God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Bible, regardless of what some people will try to tell you). Then there is

is the mention of ‘Khazir’ (Khidr more commonly), ‘The Green One’ – a revered figure in the Islamic tradition often charged with carrying out spiritual tasks by God, who was said to possess some mystical insight, and a righteous dispossession.

One night a man cried, “Allah, Allah!”
until his lips became sweet with the sound.
The Evil One approached him as he stood chanting,
and asked “How now, chatterbox?
Where is the answer to your insistence?
Who replies to you ‘Here am I?’
No answer comes from the Throne:
how long then will you mindlessly go on crying ‘Allah?'”

Broken-hearted, the man ceased his chant and lay down to sleep.
In that sleep he dreamed a dream, and in that dream the
holy mystic Khazir appeared before him in a green garden. The saint spoke:
“Why have you desisted from the mention of God?
How is that you now despair of calling on Him?”

The dreamer replied,
“I ceased because no ‘Here am I’ was coming to me.
I fear therefore I may be turned from His door.”

Khazir answered, “God says: ‘Your cry of “Allah” is itseslf My “Here am I,”
just as your pleading and agony and fervor are My messenger.
All your twistings and turnings to come to Me were
My drawing you that set you free.
Your fear and love are the snares to catch My grace.
Under each “Allah” of your whispers many a “Here am I” ‘”

At least to my mind, these verses say something profound in opposition to the dominant, materialist worldview that our friends in the ‘Academy’, especially in the Natural Sciences (how’s that for ironic?) seem to uphold. Causation in the linear sense appears here to be profoundly insufficient in understanding Reality. Whether or not Rumi is suggesting (and I know very little about him, alas) that the very act of chanting His name is a manifestation of the Divine Mercy – that our connection with God is so pervasive and sewn-into the fibre of our existence that we fail to realise how connected we are actually in fact…or if it means that we ought not to see our pleas for ‘help’, or our yearning for Him as a spiritual endeavour that originates in our own agency rather than His…I cannot be entirely sure. Maybe he meant something else altogether.

But we have the problem today of seeing ourselves as ‘apart’ from the Reality of things (and I find this a grave difficulty with the various apologists from the great Monotheistic traditions, Islam included), through which we insist on placing barriers between God’s ‘Will’ and that which is manifested through it – i.e. creation. No, I’m not saying in the more pseudo-spiritual fashions, or even in the demonic traditions (see what I did there :p) , that we are all deities therefore and that we possess Divine Agency thus, and can manifest our wants independently and so for – far from it!

Yet what we see is a hermeneutic sense of ‘separateness’ through which we try and ‘rationalise’ without recourse to the Revealed or inspired traditions our place in the cosmos (which might be in part where the analytic tradition, so impacted by the dualistic tendencies, has gone astray).   Thus we place tremendous intellectual barriers between us, and Him, and our approach in trying to reconcile ourselves with our existence; I can’t provide an alternative framework for viewing the world (though I’m currently reading Dr Nasr’s Islamic Philosophy from its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy which seems to be making a good go of it!) but increasingly the ‘rationalistic’ lens appears gravely inadequate when trying to reconcile our metaphysical beliefs/structures we perceive with the epistemological observances we make of the world, which are often wholly reliant on those metaphysical presuppositions (remember my previous post on David Berlinski?). Thus, is God merely a metaphysical construct or is He part of the lived epistemology of our world? Or both?

This translation is from The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition (Ed. William C. Chittick); ‘PARABOLA Anthology Series’; (Standpoint; ID: Morning Light Press), 2007; 205.

The book was kindly gifted to me by someone I hold very dear, and I highly recommend its various essays (which are rather short and eminently readable), with the various masters of Islamic philosophic/mystical traditions, not least of all Dr Seyyed Hossein Nasr (one of my heroes).