Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Tag: Christianity

When Rumi Found Me In A Time of Grief

I received this document over a year ago, from a sainted being who has become a dear friend and teacher. I only just finished reading it – and it is fortuitous that it happened now. For those of you who aspire to faith, or enjoy dabbling in the metaphysical – heck, even if you have lost all Hope – I recommend parts II and III especially.

A number of you read this blog who live with a debilitating chronic illness – perhaps it is you who may want to consider its words the most. Whilst her experience is anecdotal, her references and reflections esoteric, and perhaps her trust that of a lovestruck fool, perhaps this text may encourage you to try the path of the intoxicated lover. Why not surrender to the Ocean of Being, to which we are all being steadily returned. In our cases, what else is there that we can do?

I hope this isn’t too sanctimonious, preachy nor insulting. But sister Aisha Gray Henry’s text has given me much about which to think. More of her work and publications can be found on the Fons Vitae website – a publishing house she founded and for which she is Editor-in-Chief.

When we met, and she saw me in my wheelchair, she asked me “what is your talent, your gift? How will you contribute?” – these are questions that haunt me still, to which I have no concrete answers. But hers are self-evidently those of beauty. And, like Rumi, who seemed to see the Beauteous Names of the Divine predominating (though this is an opinion of the unqualified), this text resonates with a kind of beauty to which we might all aspire.

Love to you all.

I.

(Shared with permission – email me if you would like a copy of the original)

A Lecture Prepared for UNESCO Celebration in Konya and Istanbul
Honoring Rumi’s 800 Years – May 2007

By Gray Henry

Rumi clarifies principles of Islamic spirituality and metaphysical doctrine through stories, metaphor and the like, in order that we may better incorporate its guidance into the fabric of our daily lives. I’d like to share three instances where his clarifications have been “fleshed out” and gradually demonstrated in my own life—relating to (I) the appointed hour of our deaths and God’s omniscience, (II) suffering and affliction leading to true gratitude and trust, and (III) to self-naughting—a taste, or seeming glimmer (dhawq), of surrender and non-duality.

We love Rumi because he speaks of truths we recognize and know in our innermost hearts. In his Diwan, he counsels:

“Return to yourself, oh heart. For from the heart a hidden road
can be found to the Beloved. If the world of the six directions
has no door, then come into the heart, the place of contemplating
God, though it is not so now, it can be so.”
(6885)

I

All faith traditions attest to the omniscience of God. We are told that the events in our life are already determined but we are free as to how we choose to react. But, how do we know that our fated hour has, in fact, been preassigned? Rumi tries to illustrate this with such stories as that of the two men who are sitting in Damascus having tea. One looks up and notices the Angel of Death approaching their table. In great fear, he flees to Solomon, whose troop of Jinn transport him magically to Samarkand in one instant. The Angel comes up to the man, who remains sitting, and asks, “Wasn’t that so-and-so I just saw sitting here with you? Strange to find him here in Damascus when I have him on my list for Samarkand tonight.”

In the Masnavi, we have another version of this story called “Solomon, The Angel of Death, and the Man who Asked to be Taken to India”:

Solomon said, “Whatever you want, just ask!”
He pleaded, “Please assign the wind this task”
To transfer me to India with its breath.
So, over there, I might escape my death.”

(Solomon) questioned Azrael right at the chime:
“Angel of death, did you drive that good man
From home and family—was that your plan?”
He answered, “Now you know I wouldn’t lie,
I just looked on amazed as he strolled by,
For God had said today he would be dead
Not over here, but India’s tip instead.”
(Book I, 960-974)

Rumi tells us, “All the world’s affairs are planned this way, Open your eyes to see this clear as day.” What are we to conclude? We may believe with our minds that this is a Truth, but how do we know that this, in fact, is what’s going on?

I will now recount a story whereby I came to know with my heart that the hour of death is already there for each of us.

A few years ago, I went out to the airport in Louisville, Kentucky, to catch a flight to Cincinnati, which would connect me to JFK in New York for the evening flight to Cairo. The agent at the counter informed me that the flight to Cincinnati had been cancelled. I replied, “Then put me on any flight to New York.” She said there were none, but that she could book me for the next day. Two business people from New York were standing behind me and pushed their way forward. They were very frustrated by this inconvenience and asked her if there were time enough to rent a car and drive to Cincinnati to make the New York flight. She replied that indeed there was enough time to do this, and the couple turned to me and said, “We’re New Yorkers and don’t drive, but if we rented a car would you drive us and, then, hopefully, all three of us would make the needed flight?” I called my husband and said that it was doubtful I would fly to Egypt that evening, but would take the flight the following night, while probably staying in either Cincinnati or New York.

When we got out on the highway, I noticed a sign indicating that Cincinnati was 90 miles away. We had only two hours before the flight would leave, so I decided that as long as we had made this effort, I might as well drive at 90 miles per hour. I am not used to driving fast, but a strange calm came over me and I concluded that, should the police stop us, we would have at least given it our best shot. As we pulled into the airport, the business couple ran for the flight, I handed the check-in porters $20 to return the rented car and then proceeded inside with my baggage. The agent explained that, unfortunately, it was too late for me to make it, and as tears welled up in my eyes, I commented, “But, I have to make this flight.” As I turned to go, she called me back and said that the New York flight had just, at that moment, been delayed and she could, in fact, put me on and have my bags transferred in New York directly to the flight going to Egypt. When I boarded the plane, the New York couple were pleased and said that they had a car waiting for them at JFK and would be able to take me directly to the needed terminal on arrival. When we reached my terminal, the check-in counter had already, in fact, closed and the neon lights were dimmed. But, I know where the gate is for this flight, as I go each December to visit my children in Cairo, so I ran like the wind. I ran as though my life depended on it and my lungs and chest burned from the exertion. As I reached the gate, the door of the plane was being shut and all the wheelchairs were being removed. I was told I was too late to board, but again I pleaded, “I have to make this flight.” Mercifully, they let me on board.

Late the next day, I was sitting with my daughter when the telephone rang. My husband had concluded that I did not make the original flight but took that same plane when it returned the next day to New York. When that EgyptAir flight left New York, it crashed into the sea. My daughter burst into tears because it was such a close call, but I merely remarked, “It wasn’t my time.” Looking back at what had happened, there were too many coincidences for it not to have been destiny at work. What if the couple had not pushed forward and asked me to drive the rented car? What if I had not driven at 90 miles per hour? What if the flight from Cincinnati had not been unexpectedly delayed? What if the couple had not had a car waiting for them, which got me to the EgyptAir terminal so quickly? And, what if I had not run for my life? Something was pulling me along, a force that drew me steadily on to make that EgyptAir flight. I can only conclude that I experienced the idea that things are written for us. It must be then that these are not isolated occurrences. This must be going on all the time, but we don’t notice it because the events of our daily lives are not critical and do not stand out, particularly. So, therefore, I now am at ease with the cards that are being dealt out to me on a daily basis, and I continue to try to embrace the Divine Will behind these otherwise seemingly random moments with an open, welcoming heart.

II

The lesson to follow concerns the potential and meaning of affliction and suffering, as well as Rumi’s line: “Things become clear through their opposites.”

In his Diwan, Rumi explains,

“Weave not, like spiders—
Nets, from grief’s saliva
In which the warp and woof are both decaying
But give the grief to Him, who granted it
And do not talk about it anymore
For when you are silent His speech is your speech
And when you do not weave, the weaver will be He.”

“At every instant Thou hast given me
A death and resurrection; thus have I
Seen the controlling power of Thy Generosity.”
(Mathnavi V 4222)

And he also counsels:

“He has afflicted you from every direction
In order to pull you back to the Directionless.”
(Diwan 3952)

“Every heartache and suffering that enters your body and heart pulls you by the ear to the promised Abode.”
(Diwan 35486)

And so, here is what happened in my life to demonstrate conclusively the meaning and message of suffering- that really taught me the truth of putting one’s trust in God alone.

Some years ago I was living in an English village outside Cambridge while studying and working with the Islamic Texts Society, an academic organization which we established to publish important spiritual works from the Islamic heritage after having had them translated into English.

One evening as I reached to switch off the bedside lamp, I noticed my arm would not stretch out to do so. In fact, I found I was not able to pull the blankets up about me except by using my teeth; neither arm seemed to function. When I tried to take a deep breath it seemed as though my lungs were incapable of expansion. At the approach of a cough or sneeze, I held my arms tightly around my chest for fear the sudden and painful enlargement of my breast would rip me apart. When I arose the next morning, the only way to get out of bed was to hang my knees over the edge and slide off since my upper torso had become powerless. I couldn’t even raise my arms to brush my hair. Turning the bathroom faucet was an excruciating affair. By holding the bottom of the steering wheel in my finger tips, I was able to drive to the village clinic. The doctor concluded I had some type of virus for which there was no treatment other than time.

A day or so later, my husband and I were to fly to Boston for the annual congress of the Middle East Studies Association. I viewed my affliction as an inconvenience which would ultimately pass and decided to ignore my condition. I noticed, however, that on the day we were to leave England I began to have trouble walking and getting upstairs was extremely difficult. By the time we reached the hotel room in Boston, more and more of my system seemed to be shutting down. I could no longer write or hold a tea cup, bite anything as formidable as an apple, dress myself, or even get out of a chair unless assisted. Everything ached. I could not move my head in the direction of the persons to whom I was speaking –I looked straight ahead, perhaps seeing them from the corner of my eye.

Friends gave all kinds of advice that I simply shrugged off. The worst part was lying in bed at night. It was impossible to roll onto either side, and my whole body felt on fire with pain. It was terrible to have to lie flat, unable to make any shift of position whatsoever all night long. I thought to myself, “If only I could scratch my cheek when it itched, if only my eyes were not dry but cool, if only I could swallow without it feeling like a Ping-Pong sized ball of pain, if only I could reach for a glass of water when thirsty during the long night.”

As we traveled on for work in New York, I continued to make light of my infirmity and to ignore suggestions that I seek help. On the plane, however, when it was necessary to ask the stewardess to tear open a paper sugar packet, I suddenly realized– “I can’t even tear a piece of paper!” I requested that a wheelchair await me in New York and I be transferred to a flight home to my parents in Louisville, Kentucky. Since my husband was obligated to stay in New York, a kind soldier returning to Fort Knox helped me during that leg of the trip. I felt like a wounded fox that wanted nothing more than to return to, and curl up alone in, the nest of its childhood. My father met me, and the next day took me for every test imaginable. Nothing was conclusively established–was this rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus? I was brought to my parents’ house and at last put in my childhood bed with a supply of painkillers, which I was not inclined to take. Since I found I could tolerate great pain, I wanted to observe the situation and know where I stood. I started seeing my body as an object separate from me, and my mind as that which witnessed its ever-declining condition. When my legs finally “went,” with knees swollen like grapefruits and feet incapable of bearing me up, I mused with a kind of detached interest, “Oh, there go the legs!” The body seemed to be mine, but it was not me. Later that night it happened. As I lay gazing out my bedroom door and I noticed the carpet in the quiet hall, I thought, “Thank God I’m not in a hospital and the hall is not linoleum and that I am not subjected to the chatter of nurses. I know I’m in trouble and I do need help, but that would be too great a cost for my soul.”

A few moments later I became aware that I seemed to be solidifying, my body had stiffened and seemed to be very much like a log– I was totally paralyzed. Then, I seemed to separate from my body and lift a distance above it. I glanced back and saw my head on the pillow below and thought, “This is remarkable– I’ve read about this kind of thing… I am thinking and my brain is down there in my head! I must be dead.” I considered what to do and decided to pray.

I noticed that I seemed to be pulled back towards my heart– as if by a thread of light. But then there I was– quite all right, but utterly rigid and still. The light of the moon comforted me as it passed through the leafless November branches making patterns on the blankets. I thought, “Even at night, the Sun is there. Even in darkness and death, Light and Life are present.” The season seemed to parallel my state.

I then began to imagine my future. I have friends who are in wheel chairs who have always been placed along the sidelines for various events. Had I now joined them? Was I now out of the normal life of others? I began to see myself like a hunchback or a dwarf. I had always been known for my inexhaustible energy and activities. I could always, somehow, get to my feet to do one more thing. This was now over. I would no longer be able to do anything. I thought of the people in this world who have impressed me most– the Mother Teresas of our world. I realized that what was exemplary in these people was not what they did, but what they were; their state of being actually inspired others. And so I set upon a plan of inward action: The best thing I could do for others would be to sanctify my soul, to let my state of being become radiant. Having concluded this, I felt things were in order.

In the morning my parents found me, fixed in place; I was given eggnog to drink through a straw–chewing was over. My husband came from New York and I recall marveling when I observed him. He could, without considering the matter in depth, shift his position in a chair, scratch his forehead, or lean over to pick up a dropped pencil– all painlessly! Imagine– reflex action! Occasionally if I really wanted to move, for example, my fingers, I would think to myself, “All right, now, I-am-going-to-try-to-move-my-fingers,” and I would concentrate my entire attention on the task. With incredible pain and focus, I could at most shift a few millimeters. It struck me profoundly that when someone is able to move in this world without pain– that is, in health– that they are experiencing a foretaste of paradise on earth without ever being aware of it. Everything after that is extra.

Ultimately, it was decided that I should be given a week’s course of cortisone so I could return to my children and the British specialist who might be able to figure out what I had. The cortisone was miraculous and frightening– I could actually walk and pick up things– yet I knew that I couldn’t.

On the return to Cambridge, the hospital, needing to proceed with tests, decided that I should be removed overnight from cortisone. I then discovered what withdrawal symptoms are– a level of pain that seems to consume one alive with fire. But the pain was nothing compared to the frightening mental confusion I experienced: I could not grasp proper thinking, or even normal reality. What I needed was not only a doctor, but a kind of scholar/saint who could describe to me the hierarchy of meaning so that I would not be so painfully lost. I suppose true doctors are a combination of all three.

I grasped a rosary and clung to it like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man, and I made it to the light of dawn on the invocation of God’s Name, my sanity somehow still intact.

The English specialist could not make a conclusive diagnosis. Our Vietnamese acupuncturist suggested toxins had built up on the entire nerve and muscle system and prescribed massage during steam baths to release them. It sounded definitely worth doing. But, at the same time, I had come to that point that the very ill come to, where, though they take advice with gratitude, inside of them something has dimmed and they no longer care or wish to make any effort. Pleasantly, I had reached a great calm within. Each day I was brought downstairs where I directed the preparation of meals and worried the children who saw I could no longer sew on a button or sign a check. I was resigned to never moving again. I had never experienced such peace. It was touching that people prayed for me and it was lovely that so many asked after my condition. I felt like an upright pole in the middle of a stream. I had come to feel that it would be wrong to pray for my affliction to be lifted, as its good had come to outweigh its bad, in terms of my heart and soul. I could see what was of real importance.

In the spring, my husband had work in Arabia and suggested that as he would be traveling by private plane they could manage to get me on board. I could as easily sit in a warm climate as I could in cold, damp Cambridge.

A few days later I was asked to give my annual talk at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University. I declined, explaining that I was unable to research and prepare a topic properly. Friends said they would be delighted to do this, if I could come up with a subject. I answered, “All right, why does this Job-like affliction happen to someone, in the view of Islam?” The passages they wrote down and translated to English from both the Koran and hadith, the sayings and recorded deeds of the Prophet Muhammad- – all seemed to say the same thing. In Islam, illness is understood to be a great blessing because it is an opportunity, if borne with patience free of complaint, to purify oneself of past sins– to burn away wrong thoughts and deeds.

As I delivered my talk, it began to dawn upon me why Muslims always reply with Al hamdulilah (the same as Alleluia) whenever anyone inquires as to health. I had always wondered why one could ask someone who suffered from an obviously terrible physical or emotional pain or loss, “How are you,” and all one could get out of such a person was, “All praise belongs to God.” I kept wanting them to talk about their pain with me, to share their suffering, and I wondered why they would not. Suddenly I realized that they were praising God for their state of being. The suffering they endured, no matter how great or small, was an opportunity to be purified, which is the very aim of human existence. In an instant, my own illness was seen in a new light. I no longer patiently tolerated it. I loved it, I flowed with it. I saw how blessed I was to have been tried with not something small, but something as total as paralysis. God had thought me up to it.

As I loved my illness, or shall we say, loved God’s will for me, my fingers suddenly began to regain movement. Bit by bit the movement in my hands returned, until at last in late spring, I was restored. What had been the most painful and difficult time in my life turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I had gained a deepened perspective, a sense of proportion and freedom. God had blessed me with near total dependence on others, a symbol reminding me of my utter dependency on Him. And even when I had not been able to move one inch, I was able to be in touch with His Divine Presence.

“God created suffering and heartache so that joyful-heartedness might appear through its opposite.” (Mathnavi VI 104)

(The illness described above was later diagnosed as Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome.)

Rumi explains:

“When someone beats a rug with a stick
He is not beating the rug
His aim is to get rid of the dust.
Your inward is filled with dust
From the veil of I-ness
And that dust will not leave all at once.”
(Diwan 12074)

But, the “rug beating” of the paralysis left much dust, which necessitated God’s going for a central organ- my heart.

III

In his Diwan, Rumi writes:

“Come out of ourselves? But to where?
To selflessness. Selflessness is meaning, meaning.
Self-consciousness is names, names.”
(Diwan 16600)

In the Maqalat, Shemsi Tabriz is recorded as having stated that, “Meaning is God” and, “I have a living God—what would I do with a dead God?” Further, he inquires of us:

“What is the utmost end of need?
Finding what has no needs.
What is the utmost end of seeking?
Finding what is sought.
What is the utmost end of the sought?
Finding the seeker.”

In a verse Rumi liked, al-Hallaj proclaims, “Kill me, my faithful friends! For in my slaughter is my life—my death is in my life and my life in my death.”

The mystery of Die before death is this: “After dying come the spoils—other than dying no other skill avails with God, oh worker of deception.” (Mathnavi VI 3837)

We, the readers of such glorious passages, again attempt to understand them through duality with our reasoning minds, which are lodged in the phenomenal realm. How does one know these truths, these spoils, for certain in one’s own heart?

What does Rumi mean when he says, “All of this dying is not the death of the form—for this body is nothing but the spirit’s instrument”? (Mathnavi V 3821)

Let me now tell you a story of God’s grace upon this poor and unworthy servant when He granted me a taste of that eternal realm of Divine Unity. In 1995, many things had come to a close in my life. My parents, whom I had returned to Kentucky to care for, had died. Following that I had completed some publishing for the Bosnians, after having returned from the most heartbreaking work in their refugee camps during the war as it raged. I had not yet gone back into publishing. (Islamic Texts Society, 1979-1991/ and not yet Fons Vitae, 1997 onwards.) I started noticing that my heart hurt a lot of the time, and I was experiencing frequent shortness of breath. I lived alone in my father’s home and, at night, deep pain in my heart became more and more unbearable. One night, it was so bad, and the skipping of the heartbeats had become so alarming, that I concluded, as I cried out, that I was about to die. It occurred to me that I had never written a will and that maybe – in Kentucky – the state takes all, in such a case. I reached over and took a yellow legal pad, on which I wrote a few simple instructions in a most illegible handwriting. It was very comforting to think, however, that everything had been put in order.

In the morning, finding myself still alive, I decided to call a cousin of mine who worked at the Louisville Heart Institute. She sent a car for me, and it was not long before a very kind Lebanese doctor informed me that every time my heart beat, blood was escaping out into the surrounding cavity. He would need to operate the following morning, and I was not to eat anything from that evening onward. I explained, however, that I was not free on the following morning. For some time, I had had tickets to go to Santa Fe to participate in a dear friend’s wedding and, especially, to be present to the golden Aspen leaves quaking in the autumn breeze. What the doctor did not realize was that I was truly free and did not choose to spend the next morning on a cold hospital operating table when I could be in the autumnal paradise of New Mexico. When I had written the will, I really meant it and everything was neatly arranged, very much like old love letters tied up neatly with a satin ribbon. He said I was extremely irresponsible and that both the altitude of the plane and Santa Fe would be too much for my heart. I replied that if I were alive in a week’s time, I would come in.

A friend came and helped prepare my tiny bag and took me to the airport. I was having a great deal of trouble walking and speaking. On the plane, I found myself to be too frail to even turn the pages of a book. I was simply holding on. But, I did scribble on a tiny yellow Post-It the following few words: What is actually happening to me is not physical, it’s spiritual. My true being is trying to separate from my shadow one. What I meant by that was that my Spirit was trying to free itself from that hypocritical quagmire I had been calling my “spiritual life”.

When I arrived in New Mexico, my friends—having heard of my state of illness—insisted that I stay in their home with them although it had been arranged for me, as a wedding guest, to stay in a hut in the desert, not far from the Indian Museum. I responded, “I’ll take the hut.” The next morning, I woke up and decided to slowly make my way out some many meters into the desert to enjoy the Dante-esque mountains and the golden trees. As I slowly walked out, my inner emptiness, my concluded life, my lack of concern for any future or past, were mirrored by the void of the desert around me. I seemed to be on a vertical alignment with nothingness and completion.

In all faith traditions, we are asked to surrender, but I think that must be impossible to do because we always have an agenda at some level. But, as I began to sit down, I got surrendered—was surrendered. Time simply stopped. There I was, sitting in what can only be described as sat (Infinite Luminous Being), chit (Pure Consciousness), ananda (Absolute Bliss). What we are living in is Divine Beauty. It is actually true, God is love. In an utter reverence and a joy that I had never known, my hardened heart began to melt from relief—I could finally See. Tears of relief completely wet my blue sweatshirt as the waves of myself subsided into the Sea of my Self. Although I had a body, it seemed cool and I couldn’t really feel it. Somehow, through my eyes, I could see an unearthly glory about me- nature’s unveiled paradisal archetypes were shining through. But, what was really going on was that that part within my heart that participates in God was recognizing Itself. Somehow, Itself was recognizing Itself. There was/is no time, there was/is no duality—no past or future, no male or female, no birth or even death, no Islam or Buddhism. There was/is nothing but Divine Reality—there is nothing but God. La ilaha ila Lah. That’s all there is. And, that’s all I want. It’s everything and yet no thing. The Eternal Now: I belong here forever. I am from here- it is the true me- even if I forget it.

“Only Thou, oh Best of Helpers, canst transform the eye
that sees non-existent things into one that sees the Existent!”
(Mathnavi VI 825)

And what is the vehicle that can transport us to this Glorious Other Shore? Perhaps something like this state of being that I was blessedly shown. It exists in the place of “no thinking”- where opposites meet, between good and bad. This state of utter happiness and inherent transcendence of our temporal “selves” is always there and we just have to remember to be in touch with It, to recall that who we really are is absolute reverence, serenity, beauty, humility, and awe. It would seem that access is had through stillness, slowness, and reverence; the Buddha Smile.

As the afternoon faded, the tear-damp shirt made my body feel chilled. I slowly rose to return to the hut. I walked in almost slow motion and thought to myself, “So this is what has been called the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, the Plant of Life, and so on. In the myths, when the hero goes out to attain the magic plant, he often loses it before reaching home.” I wondered whether, if I lived, I would abuse and lose this greatest of graces, this taste, of Divine Unity. That night, in the hut, I dreamt of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who, for me, embodies qualities Mercy and Compassion. In the dream, I opened the door of my home, my heart, in Kentucky and there he was on the front steps. Behind him were eight earth-colored, log-like bundles and I thought to myself, “He must be bringing me the Eightfold Path.” He came in through the door and, standing a couple of feet away, facing me, appeared to condense into a Cheops-shaped pyramid, which penetrated my heart. At the same moment, I felt an energy descending through my fontanel and coming up through my feet. When I awoke in the morning, my heart no longer hurt but I could no longer speak or even move except extremely slowly. I concluded that a real person moves slowly and is mostly silent—my exact opposite.

“Silence! Silence! For the allusions of love are reversed;
the meanings become hidden from much speaking.”
(Diwan 12073)

A little later in the morning, some of the wedding guests came to check on me and to invite me along to a special lunch and shower for the bride. People were very surprised how slowly I moved and how luminous I appeared in my silence. At the end of the week, I returned to Kentucky and went to the heart doctor who put all kinds of special belts with sensors, which were heart-sensitive on me. I had been asked to give a lecture in Tehran, at a congress on world spiritual art, so I slowly began to write my paper as I sat looking out the windows at the golden autumnal leaves floating Taoistically down to the ground. They didn’t just fall. And, I hoped that my own death would be so gentle and graceful and golden.

“Make a journey from self to self, oh friend, for by such a journey
the earth becomes a mine of gold.”
(Diwan 12117)

In Iran, everyone kindly looked out for me, and it was there in Tehran that this lesson from God concluded. Martin Lings was speaking about Shakespeare at this congress, and I asked if I could have time to speak with him. I told him about my experience in the desert and added, “I didn’t deserve it.” He looked at me and said, “Do any of us deserve our blessings? No. Do any of us deserve our trials? No. They only appear to be different, but in fact it is simply God adjusting us to His Divine Self. There is no duality.”

“Where should we seek peace? In abandoning peace.”
(Mathnavi VI 823)

In the end, as with the paralysis some years before, my illness turned out to be spiritual rather than physical. The Dalai Lama once said that, for the most part, disease is dis-ease. It is a stress which comes from our being at odds with our true selves. The holier a person, the healthier.

“Give up to Grace
The ocean takes care of each wave.
Until it gets to shore.”

“I am filled with you.
Skin, blood, bone, brain, and soul.
There’s no room for lack of trust, or trust.
Nothing in this existence but that existence.”

And so, I have come to see, life is a gradual demonstration for us all that these eternal verities Rumi describes are true and realizable. Eternity is not in time, but now and it follows that this indivisible Now is man’s ever present opportunity. Rumi asks us to unlock the holy in everyday life- to step back and watch this moment we are in and know this bliss.

Oh, lovers, go out from the attributes of selfhood!
Obliterate yourselves in the vision of the Living
God’s Beauty.”
(Diwan 7850)

No one will find his way to the Court of Magnificence
until he is annihilated.”
(Mathnavi 232)

You are your own shadow
Become annihilated in the rays of the sun!
How long will you look at your own shadow?
Look also at His Light!
(Diwan 20395)

(With gratitude for William C. Chittick’s “The Sufi Path of Love” (Suny, 1983) and “Me & Rumi” (Fons Vitae, 2004)

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Love, not Reason…

It’s love, not reason, which has no reign;

Reason is concerned with interest and gain.

A lover ever gives, not expecting a return.

Like God Who gives freely, for us to learn.

Virtue is to give without any cause;

The Domain of religion, at this point would pause.

Being saved from punishment, or gaining a reward

Is what pulls the masses to religion and the Lord,

But Lovers don’t like to amass and hoard;

Above this plane they’ve risen and soared.

Rūmī (abridged a little; trans. Tawus Raja)

From Liberated Soul: In Memory of Sayyid Hashim Haddad, A Translation of Ruh-i Mujarrad (ICAS Press: London, 2017).

If only this was the ethos with which we pursued our interpersonal relationships; heck, our online discourse, even? Truly splendid jewels from the great master himself.

 

The Life of Faith

“The Life of Faith…[is] very hard in our culture. It’s not because our culture doesn’t believe in God, it’s because our culture doesn’t believe in Death….we have quite a lot of people in this country… and in the West in general, who believe in God, but they don’t believe in death really, and as a result, don’t really get the point…

“And we do live in a culture that’s dedicated to distracting us from this inconvenient truth. Because, really, what is the business of life if you are A Good American, say, or a good Late-Modern Westerner? It is to buy things. Things. And more things. Some toys. And then some other things, and some more toys. And then to buy some things. That’s what ‘Life’ is. And I’ll tell you, if you think too much about God and the soul, if you haven’t turned God and the soul into happy names for ‘American values,’ but you really think about them and then you think about the horizon of Death, you start thinking that buying things might not be enough to keep Death at bay….and then you might stop buying things! And we know where that leads…Norwegian dentistry.”

David Bentley Hart.

What Mastery of the Mystical Sciences…

Stillness and motion do not apply to Him. How can a thing occur in Him which He has Himself made to occur, and how can a thing revert to Him which He first created, and how can a thing appear in Him which He first brought to appearance? If it had not been so, His Self will have become subject to diversity, His Being will have become divisible (into parts) and His reality will have been prevented from being deemed eternal. If there was a front to Him then there will have been a rear also for Him. He will need completing only if shortage befell Him. IN such case, signs of the created will appear in Him and He will become a sign (leading to other objects) instead of signs leading to Him. Through the might of His abstention (from affectedness) He is far above being affected by things which effect others.

Below, I have typed up Sermon 28 from  the Peak of Eloquence, the vast repository or  collection of Sermons, sayings, letters Imam Ali  (a.s), compiled by Sharif al-Radi.

This version is published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, New York.

I’ve included sections from others that are utterly awe-inspiring (emphasis mine, mostly!)

Sermon 28 – About the Transient Nature of this World and the Importance of the Next World

What a truly edifying, (perhaps terrifying) words of perennial wisdom and admonition; how easy it is to forget the life that is to come; too easily do we live as if we will never die, that we’ll repent tomorrow – yet in whose mortal hand does the power exist to guarantee his tomorrow? Sharif al-Radi, the compiler of this great work,

“So now, surely this world has turned its back and announced its departure while the next world has appeared forward and proclaimed its approach. Today is the day of preparation while tomorrow is the day of race. The place to proceed is Paradise while the place of doom is Hell. Is there no one to offer repentance over his faults before his death? Or is there no one to perform virtuous acts before the day of trial?

“Beware, surely you are in the days of hopes behind which stands death. Whoever acts during the days of his hope before the approach of his death, his action would benefit him and his death would not harm him. But he who fails to act during the period of hope before the approach of death, his action is a loss and his death will harm him. Beware and act during a period of attraction just as you act during a period of dread. Beware, surely I have not seen one who covets Paradise asleep nor dreads Hell to be asleep. Beware, he whom right does not benefit must suffer the harm of the wrong and he whom guidance does not keep firm will be led away by misguidance toward destruction.

“Beware, you have been ordered insistently to march and have been guided as to how to provide for the journey. Surely the most frightening thing which I am afraid of about you is to follow desires and to widen the hopes. Provide for yourself from this world what would save you tomorrow (on the Day of Judgement).”
The Last Portion  of Sermon 83 – The Lesson to Be Learned from Those Who Have Passed Away:

“O servants of Allah!! Where are those who were allowed (long) ages to live and they enjoyed bounty? They were taught and they learned. they were given time and they passed it in vain. They were kept healthy and they forgot (their duty). They were allowed a long period (of life), were handsomely provided, were warned of grievous punishment and were promised big rewards. You should avoid sins that lead to distraction and vices that attract the wrath (of Allh).

“O people who possess eyes and ears, health and wealth! Is there any place of protection, any shelter of safety, or asylum or haven, or occasion to run away or to come back (to this world)? If not, how are you, then turned away (Holy Quran, 6:95;   10:34;   35:3;   40:62) and whither are you averting? By what things have you been deceived? Certainly, the share of everyone of you from the earth is just a piece of land equal to his owns stature and size where he would lie on his cheeks covered with dust. The present is an opportune moment for acting.

“O servants of Allah! Since the neck is free from the loop and spirit is also unfettered, now you have time for seeking guidance. You are in ease of body; you can assemble in crowds, the rest of life is before you; you have opportunity of acting by will; there is opportunity for repentance and peaceful circumstances. (But you should act) before you are overtaken by narrow circumstances and distress, or fear and weakness, before the approach of the awaited death and before seizure by the Almighty, the Powerful.”

*”Sayyid ar-Radi says the following: ‘It is related that when Imam Ali ibn Abu [sic] Talib delivered this sermon people began to tremble, tears flowed from their eyes and their hearts were frightened. Some people call this sermon Brilliant Sermon (al-Khutbatul-Gharra’).

A Portion of Sermon 184 – on the Creation of the Universe

“In His creation, the big, the delicate, the heavy, the light, the strong, the week are all equal. ** So is the sky, the air, the winds and the water. Therefore, look at the sun, moon, vegetation, plants, water, stone, the difference of this night and day, the springing of the streams, the large number of the mountains, the height of their peeks, the diversity of languages and the variety of tongues. Then woe unto him who disbelieves in the One who ordains, who denies the Ruler! These believe that they are like grass for which there is no cultivator nor any maker for their own sundry shapes. They have not relied on any argument for what they assert, nor on any research for what they have heard. Can there be any construction without a constructor, or any offense without an offender?

The Wonderful Creation of the Locust

“If you wish, you can tell about the locust (as well). Allah gave it two red eyes, lighted for them two moons like pupils, made for it small ears, opened for it a suitable mouth and gave it a keen sense, gave it two teeth to cut with and two sickle-like feet to grip with. The farmers are afraid of it in the matter of crops. Farmers cannot drive the locust away even though they may join together in their effort. The locust attics the fields and satisfies its hunger although its body is not equal to a thin finger.”

The Glory of Allah

“Glorified is Allah before Whom everything in the skies or on earth bows down in prostration willingly and unwillingly, submits to Him by placing his cheeks and face (on the dust), kneels before Him (in obedience) peacefully and humbly and hands over to Him full control in fear and apprehension.

“The birds are bound by His commands. He knows the number of their feathers and their breaths. He has made their feet stand on water and on dry land. He has ordained their livelihoods. He knows their species. This is the crow, this is the eagle, this is the pigeon, and this is the ostrich. He called out every bird by its name (while creating it) and provided it with its livelihood. He created heavy clouds and produced from them heavy rain, spreading it on various lands. He drenched the earth after its dryness and grew vegetation from it after its barrenness.”

**

Modernity as Moral Arbiter

Here’s a comment piece by a hero of mine from the Left, Owen Jones, who indeed celebrates the loss of the case in the Supreme Court by the Bulls today, who lost their final appeal to say that based on their religious grounds, they had a right to turn away a gay couple from their privately owned guesthouse. I’m not sure of what to make of this – though readers will know I’m a regular critic (albeit an unsophisticated one) of ‘Modernity’ or ‘Progress’ or those other Humanistic metanarratives, I do feel very uncomfortable at the precedent that this case will set.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/martyrs-guesthouse-owners-who-turned-away-gay-couple-on-religious-grounds-are-nothing-of-the-kind-8967077.html

Elsewhere, the BBC reported:

“Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said: “Sexual orientation is a core component of a person’s identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation.”

Indeed, this may well be true; my question is, on what grounds, and what evidence, can you stake this ontological claim? What in any Modernist discourse actually tells you that the above is the case?

Couldn’t there equally be some postmodern critique to say that these notions of monogamous sexual relationships are merely part of a scheme of oppressive grand narratives? Why then stick to the rather Judaeo-Christian notion of a monogamous relationship, so much in vogue in the Middle Ages,  for which he shows such disdain? Surely we’ve moved past that age of bleak ignorance.

I’m not sure about this ruling, and for once I happen to strongly disagree with Mr Jones; and disgusting and odious as I find him, I think David Starkey has a reasonable solution; I am intrigued as to why the notion of an objection to what is perceived ‘morality’ on say, sexual acts, is somehow conflated with the notion of ‘homophobia’ – what has happened to the state of moral discourse and argumentation?

If indeed one is making a legal case (whether or not the subtext might reek of something more sinister), the arguments should be taken for what they are; I see no point in a judge already coming to a case with a narrative already framed.

I cannot see why, within reason, religious discourse cannot frame one of multiple narratives through which ‘modern’ liberal society can operate. I don’t see why the narrative of ‘modernism’ or ‘Progress’ ought to be favoured over any other; to say that one objects to pre-marital intercourse has nothing to do with the Middle Ages – morality shouldn’t change merely because the times have, and if it does, you ought to be very, very worried if there has been a very small body of thought put into it. Shouting ‘Equality’ is fine – but the term in and of itself is empty.

Religion has been cheapened immensely – what on earth has Southern Cafe owners got to do with this, or the book of Leviticus? Were there moral, cultural, economic (or a combination)  reasons then given? Having taken a course or two on South African history, I fail to see what ‘moral’ arguments were made to sustain those decades of apartheid… it seems to me historical forces were perhaps more important in what resulted in that very bleak period of South African history from which she has not recovered.

Would Jones be happier if they made an economic or utilitarian argument in favour of their view?

Perhaps some solid Marxist argument that the modes of production to keep this liberal edifice, in which his moral framework operates, are better served by stable family model predicated upon a man and a woman whose reproductive capacity is functional and uninhibited? Is that what we’ve come to? What hubris!

Or is he perhaps failing to see that his model of morality, predicated upon some notion of ‘autonomy’ of the self (again, what reason he has to suppose this is beyond me), is fine so long as it does not interfere with the productive capacity of the state; i.e. crudely, do what the heck you want – just keep going to work and paying your taxes and buying things.

An ardent socialist activist with a capitalist framework for ethics? At least he’s not the first. Why he’s buying into a crude economic narrative strikes of something pathologically rotten at the core of some social activists. And it breaks my heart – seeing as I happen to be of the ‘Left.’

Why, suddenly, is religion somehow one of the vestiges of an age of Ignorance – that same tyranny in which the dominant narrative that he found distasteful then is now being re-implemented, only in this case it is his own narrative that has exerted its proverbial agency.

I for one find myself within a moral universe, and though it’s not always apparent what the right thing is to do – though we have a tremendous amount of collective memory and wisdom, traditions and Scriptures that speak to this understanding – I don’t see what privileged access Mr Jones has, considering (in all fairness), that his vision of a moral and liberal world is erected upon very shaky foundations; he would do well to not rest on his laurels for too long.

I wonder what he would say if Mr Jones was informed that those in the Middle Ages found themselves in the same moral universe in which he now exists – would he have to bankrupt himself of any notion of ‘morality’ simply because those in times gone past also attested to its existence?

Jones is committing what MacIntyre (I believe) warned us of – he’s merely speaking a different language to the Bulls; I wonder if by speaking past them and not taking the time to consider the immense body of collected wisdom and thought put into their beliefs, he is indeed oppressing them by suggesting that his narrative ought to displace theirs.

On the Soul

Dear friends, 

I have, for the last few days, been dipping into a wonderful collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson, called When I Was a Child I Read Books. I’ve managed to steal a computer for a short time from relatives – who have grown perhaps as dependent upon them as have I! So here is what I could produce in a short amount of time:

If indeed you’re looking for a read that will draw your attention merely to the state of ‘marvel,’ or ‘wonder’ at the glory of the very fact that you ‘are,’ then there are very few books I might recommend more highly than this one, for it is exquisite. Robinson has a way of lovingly crafting her sentences, and drawing the reader’s internal eye to a state of reflection that I feel few modern writers can do comparably well. 

Here is a stunningly beautiful passage from her first essay, Freedom of Thought, on modern discourse and the soul: (I hope I have not breached any copyrights – though dear readers feel free to inform me and I will edit the passage as necessary; my hope is just that you get a decent and tantalising spoonful of her work that would draw you in to purchase her books):

“Modern discourse is not really comfortable with the word “soul,” and in my opinion the loss of the word has been disabling, not only to religion but to literature and political thought and to every humane pursuit. In contemporary religious circles, souls, if they are mentioned at all, tend to be spoken of as saved or lost, having answered som set of divine expectations or failed to answer them, having arrived at some crucial realization or failed to arrive at it. So the soul, the masterpiece of creation, is more or less reduced to a token signifying cosmic acceptance or rejection, having little or nothing to do with that miraculous thing, the felt experience of life, except insofar as life offers distractions or temptations. 

Having read recently that there are more neurons in the human brain that there are stars in the Milky Way, and having read any number of times that the human brain is the most complex object known to exist in the universe, and that the mind is not identical with the brain but is more mysterious still, it seems to me this astonishing nexus of the self, so uniquely elegant and capable, merits a name that would indicate a difference in kind from the ontological run of things, and for my purposes “soul” would do nicely. Perhaps I should pause here to clarify my meaning, since there are those who feel that the spiritual is diminished or denied when it is associated with the physical. I am not among them. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul says, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” If we are to consider the heavens, how much more are we to consider the magnificent energies of consciousness that make whomever we pass on the street a far grander marvel than our galaxy? At this point of dynamic convergence, call it self or call it soul, questions of right and wrong are weighed, love is felt, guilt and loss are suffered. And, over time, formation occurs, for weal or woe, governed in large part by that unaccountable capacity for self-awareness. 

The locus of the human mystery is perception of this world. From it proceeds every thought, every art. I like Calvin’s metaphor – nature is a shining garment in which God is revealed and concealed. As we perceive we interpret, and we make hypotheses. Something is happening, it has a certain character or meaning which we usually feel we understand tentatively, though experience is almost always available to reinterpretation based on subsequent experience or reflection. Here occurs the weighing of moral and ethical choice. Behavior proceeds from all this, and is interesting, to my mind, in the degree that it can be understood to proceed from it. 

We are very much afflicted now by tedious, fruitless controversy. Very often, perhaps typically, the most important aspect of a controversy is not the area of disagreement but the hardening of agreement, the tacit granting on all sides of assumptions that ought not to be granted on any side. The treatment of the physical as a distinct category antithetical to the spiritual is one example. There is a deeply rooted notion that the material exists in opposition to the spiritual, precludes or repels or trumps the sacred as an idea.This dichotomy goes back at least to the dualism of the Manichees, who believed the physical world was the creation of an evil god in perpetual conflict with a good god, and to related teachings within Christianity that encouraged mortification of the flesh, renunciation of the world, and so on.

For almost as long as there has been science in the West there has been a significant strain in scientific thought which assumed that the physical and material preclude the spiritual. The assumption persists among us still, vociforous as ever, that if a thing can be “explained,” associated with a physical process, it has been excluded from the category of the spiritual. But the “physical” in this sense is only a disappearingly thin slice of being, selected, for our purposes, out of the totality of being by the fact that we perceive it as solid, substantial.We all know that if we were the size of atoms, chairs and tables would appear to us as loose clouds of energy. It seems to me very amazing that the arbitrarily selected “physical” world we inhabit is coherent and lawful. An older vocabulary would offer the word “miraculous.” Knowing what we know now, and earlier generation might see divine providence in the fact of a world coherent enough to be experienced by us as complete in itself, and as a basis upon which all claims to reality can be tested. A truly theological age would see this divine Providence intent on making a human habitation within the wild roar of the cosmos.”

 

Atheist Delusions

Certainly won’t apply to all atheists, though I think much of what is said is a function of secular capitalist humanism – an ontology, a metaphysics of the self seems to pervade all of our moral behaviour. Remember, if you just get on with feeding the capitalist machine, why wouldn’t you be allowed to be your own moral adjudicator for the most part. Why wouldn’t capitalism seek in and of itself to become as secular as possible?

What do you think? A fair statement?

Sweet dreams, pray hard …you scumbag politicians, complicit and bought-off media, and Godless institutional oligarchs…

‘Let’s be clear what it at stake: services, people’s health and even lives. As Professor Terence Stephenson of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges put it last week, doctors’ warnings had been ignored, and “unnecessary competition [would] destabilise complex, interconnected local health economies, in particular hospitals, potentially having adverse effects on patient services.”‘ Owen Jones, The Independent.

Please read this article – and if you’d rather not – here are my thoughts on the reforms to the NHS in a slightly broader context.

For those of you who voted Tory (that’s ‘Conservative) at the last election, and New Labour at the previous ones…thank you so very, very much.

As a disabled person who is in need of NHS services regularly, I have experienced first the sub-standard care that comes when you turn healthcare into a racket based on the coldest, most dehumanising economic principles…from being unable to see the specialists that I need fourteen miles away from my home, in the very city in which I live, as ‘there is not enough funding in the PCT to justify it’; to waiting over a year for an application to be heard with regard to getting in-patient rehabilitation (as yet with the case in limbo sandwiched somewhere between a bureaucratic fat-cat’s wallet and pool of blood resting in his chalice..)

..to being discharged by physiotherapists and occupational therapists repeatedly because my recovery has been ‘too slow’ to justify me ‘being kept on the books’ (how’s that for economic?) –  maybe four times in the last year – twice after just two visits…. – my being forced to see psychiatrists because the institutions were at a loss (both in terms of finances and morale, and even expertise) to be given drugs, effectively to shut me up and stop complaining (incidentally, these drugs have only had a negative effect on my health)… as I said, thank you, dear comrades.

…Yet there are countless others who have both lost their lives or have suffered the most dehumanising cruelty at the hands of an institution, and a government, and a complicit public, whose responsibility has been to protect the vulnerable. I didn’t plan on falling sick at 18 and not being able to contribute to the services on which I became forced to be reliant (no, I don’t have a sense of entitlement – just had a hope that I might be able to leave a better NHS behind for my own, and your children)… but thanks to those of you who justify propping up a godless financial behemoth, killing millions in far-off lands with money you have stolen from your own fellow citizens to fight for natural resources that you were never entitled to… you know what….thank you again.

…Forget just the atrocities committed against those of us reliant on the ‘welfare state’, and what grief we have to go through to ‘prove’ we are sick or in need, with less than 0.5 percent of us as fraudulent claimants to disability support… think how many months we are cut off from financial support etc, to be forced to rely on people who can barely afford to feed themselves…. There is blood in your hands, in all of them, in mine too… in your bellies because of the unjustified sustenance procured at the hands of your soldiers, in your wallets because of the circulated wealth that has come from robbing it out of the pockets of those who needed it the most through ‘savings’ (not ‘cuts’)…

But of course if you know not of anyone who is in desperate need of these services which were a birth-right to them, and to you, a part of the compact they have made as contributing citizens to this country, and to each other (that’s you included), you will sleep in relative peace tonight as the lives of millions of them are ravaged further after today. Sweet dreams, comrades.

…Hopefully Hell won’t spit you out in disgust… I say this not flippantly – but if you happen to believe that Christ died and arose for your sins this weekend…Happy Easter to you. Enjoy the festivities with your families… but think about this… how many others are you killing off for your sins? That you will never be able to be vindicated for nor redeemed, without an act of all-out sacrifice and nothing short of Grace… pray hard for your souls…pray very, very hard indeed.

Dr. Rowan Williams on Islam and the ‘Islamification’ of Britain

Here’s a fairly recent (not fairly new…however you’d like to word it) comment the good Archbishop made on Islam. Though I sometimes think that the Anglican Communion in general has lost its way at times, I have tremendous respect for those clerics such as Dr. Williams and the jointly intellectual and spiritual worldview that he has.

Though he ends with the comment that we, as Muslims, are probably more like Christians than many Christians might acknowledge or consider (to paraphrase), I think that the communal values that we have, especially in regard to marriage, equal rights, recognition of a sort of transcendental ‘dignity’ we share with our fellow creatures makes us far more like Christians than we, as Muslims, would often like to acknowledge. I’d venture so far as to say that we have a lot more in common with Christians than we do with those aggressive secularists – Dr Williams is a testament to what a clergyman should look like – erudite, sophisticated, firm in belief, and grounded spiritually. Whatever you think of him, and his attempts to reconcile religious belief in the modern world, I sometimes wish that we had more clerics like him living in the West, who had such a public platform. I’d even settle for more clerics like him in the Christian world.

Though we as Muslims find ourselves increasingly alienated in this ‘Christian’ country/world, I think that efforts on the part of people like Dr Williams as well as systematic work done by more Muslims, is the only way that we will survive spiritually in the torment of ‘modernity’, and be able to work toward the Divine human ‘project’.

Here’s the latter part of one of my favourite verses from the Qur’an, which is quite pertinent here (the whole verse is of course beautiful in its own right, too, but would need the sort of elaboration that I’m to unable to give. Nonetheless…):

“To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people. But God’s purpose is to test you in what he has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God [in the Hereafter], and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree.” (Ma’ida:58)

Freedom?! What Freedom?! Freedom-fanaticism and the fallacy of the State-Religion. Enough of the ‘Politics of Derision.’

A good friend of mine, Siraj Datoo (Editor in Chief of The Student Journals – studentjournals.co.uk) was in September on BBC World Have Your Say, as part of an interesting discussion on the protests across the Muslim world and from the Muslim communities in the West.

It’s a great discussion and I found it very thought-provoking. Yes, I know it’s a little late for me to comment – but in a narcissistic aim to feed my ego, I might as well chime in on the discussion.

If you’d like my rant and comments on this programme (very badly composed as I sort of zoned out and typed furiously over the course of a few minutes), I’ll include my thoughts under the link. Siraj’s blog can be found here.

I very much enjoyed this programme. I liked the French fellow – he seemed to have interesting things to say, but alas, did seem to speak a little from the privileged perspective.

I enjoyed this platform particularly because most of the panelists were articulate, educated, peace-oriented (although that’s the de facto human condition if you strip away all those things the higher powers use to divide us) – thankfully no fringe-fanatics were interviewed, no Anjem Choudarys or fanatical, angry, bearded clerics in sight, thank God!). Though the BBC is now an arm of the British Government in many respects, I think that this programme was pretty balanced and nuanced. Only that they didn’t discuss the problem of modern Western imperialism in the Middle East and the ‘global south’ in general.

The American fellow is moronic, if you’ll excuse me, comparing the President of the US to say the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha etc – absolute madness. Most Westerners don’t feel about their leaders what Muslims in general feel about the Prophet Muhammad – he is seen as the paragon of virtue, of love, of humanity – I imagine the same way Christians feel about Jesus. If you actually read the histories and biographies of his life, his track record is far better than that of say, Sarkozy or Obama.

His talk (that is, our American friend) of freedom of speech in the States being a result of the struggle for liberation from British imperialism is a bit rich; many of the protestors, as was said on the show, live in the third world. They are affected by imperialism to this day. It’s all fair and well that the ‘free’ man can criticise – only he doesn’t realise that in his hand he firmly grasps the whip the beat at the backs of the barbarians he is trying to civilise.

More importantly, they are subject to rampant, unrestrained imperialism on the part of the US, Britain, the ‘free world’.

Do you think their burning of US flags and effigies of Obama are as a result of their hatred of ‘freedom’? As Chomsky said, it’s not that they hate our freedoms, but it’s that we hate their freedoms. The US has for decades continued to prop up the most authoritarian, fanatical regimes across the Arab and Muslims world (and elsewhere) – which undermines daily the dignity and freedoms of the Muslims. We saw it with Gaddhafi, Mubarak, the House of Saud, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, the Bahraini monarchy (now a client state), the Israeli government that for decades has massacred the Palestinians and Lebanese without restraint.. the list goes on…not to mention that they currently occupy two countries now in the Middle East. Don’t even get me started on what they’re doing across Africa, the Far East, the South Pacific.

Mahesh was completely misguided – liberating the Kuwaitis was a benevolent act on the part of the US?!

So long as this mentality of crazy, right-wing (party fanatical Christian Right) jingoism continues in the world, the West will never understand why it is the Muslim world feels under attack when symbols of their identity – especially their religious identity (no doubt the Islamic identity is the most powerful one extant today, the staying power and message of the Prophet hasn’t waned – which says something about the universality of Islam I think) – is denigrated.

Yes, the film was used as an excuse for violence – madness. But the anger, resentment, feeling of threat on the part of the Muslim world is not something they imagined. The US and Western imperial agenda is still alive, these protestors live in so-called ‘postcolonial’ societies (can you sense the irony?!) whose progress toward dignity, individual freedom, is constantly hampered by either US funds or Saudi petrodollars to prop up and perpetuate the most barbaric conditions – degrading the dignity of those Muslims, Christians and Jews who happen to live in those failed states.

As a community – we feel the frustration (as many of us more privileged in the West travel ‘home’ often) of our brethren, just as much as we feel under attack in or actual homes in the West because of this ‘softer’ approach toward marginalising an Islamic way of life in so-called democracies. The Prophet, hijab, halal meat, male circumcision, the Islamic moral code (that’s the whole of the Shari’ah – not just the punitive stuff the Right likes to parade on Fox News) – all of this is being sidelined in favour of something more ‘civilised’. Funny, I don’t see the Kosher food or male circumcision in the state of Israel as being demonised by our press in the West. But they do indeed seem to care a little too much about it in, Germany and France – where Muslims are a significant minority (as well as Jews, incidentally).

It’s ironic, is it not, that their aim to liberate those poor, oppressed, Muslim women in the Islamic world, they have to ban the burqa in France?! That’s just a pretext for something far more pernicious, sinister. Islam is coming under attack from a very influential atheistic lobby and Religious Right; my concern, and perhaps it’s paranoia – but if they continue to inflict this kind of neoimperialism and liberal arrogance on the Arab, Muslim and Third-World, and the Muslims (and perhaps even others) keep protesting both here in the West, and there, feeding the paranoia of the Religious Right and the secularists, the mass deportations might begin sooner than we think.

The proper response to such cartoons varies depending on the context of the people who are protesting – but certainly it should be a peaceful one. Moreover, the privileged Muslims in the West at least should pool their funds together – we need better PR. Thought it’s unfair that we are put in this situation to have to defend ourselves (people are uneducated about the Islamic world, about Muslims) – we need films, books, media of our own to be accessible, highly promoted – to build an understanding of what Islam has to offer to society, and what its potential can be as part of the ‘Liberal’ world.

I do believe in the tenets of freedom of speech – and if someone wants to disrespect a particular religion or institution – I will defend his right to do so. Only, he doesn’t realise that he has shackled himself to the state-religion, which is far more threatening, serpentine, insidious, far more dangerous than religion proper could ever be to his freedoms.

But I fear that by the time he realises it, it will be too late. Ah, the arrogance of the West (when I speak of the West, I don’t of course include countries in the Eastern bloc, or say the more developed countries in Latin America – I have far more respect for them, and to an extent the mediterranean countries, and their governments than I do for say the Israeli, British, German, American, Canadian, French, Autralian total Hegemon).

I quote Noam Chomsky way too much, but when he was asked about the politics of so-called secularist humanists who promote freedom (Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, specifically) and use their platform to promote an “aggressive foreign policy”, Chomsky responded (here):

“I think they are religious fanatics. They happen to believe in the state-religion, which is much more dangerous than other religions, for the most part. So they…both of them, happen to be defenders of the state-religion, namely the religion that says that ‘we have to support the violence and atrocities of our own state, because it’s being done for all sorts of wonderful reasons…which is exactly what everyone says in every state…and that’s just another religion, like the religion that ‘markets know best’..it doesn’t happen to be a religion that you pray to…once a week. But it’s just another religion as is very destructive.”

Finally -the West needs a culture shift; for some reason Muslims are expected to put their Western, nationalist identity before their faith – something that Muslims, I believe, are resisting –  this is something that ardent secularists cannot grasp. The idea of liberalism and living in a free society from the perspective of minority groups is somewhat different to that of the secular, caucasian, affluent Right-wing.

But the fact that this sort of hate speech and rampant disrespect for beliefs that people hold dear – is just as much a damning inditement to the failures of a ‘free’ system that is solely based on the state-institution and of Capital, that ironically claims its virtues to be that it creates a context for universal acceptance, of respect. That it in fact can take place, in the first place, is very, very, telling. And yes, in case you ask, I would just as much defend the rights of Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, etc to take offence if their religious figures and symbols came under such attack, and I would, if able, attend their protests also.

I’ve written too much, bedtime!

P.S By the way, I don’t despise atheists/secularists nor do I dislike Right-Wing Christians – but their political agenda is and are, well… just obscene. I think they’re the greatest threat to actual freedom – especially the freedom to choose your own identity, your allegiances, your priorities is this perpetuation of the free, secular myth. It hasn’t been able to take the place of religious beliefs, something it has aspired to do for the last century, fundamentally because it misunderstands the importance in impact of religion and religious beliefs of the lives of adherents. But then that’s another debate. 

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