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letting go

dear God

i am so tired

the world’s woes pile up in my heart

which cracks and cracks

until

the idea that i have a heart

seems like a delusion

rather

there is an essence of who i am

somewhere deep below

that i can only reach

if i let You wash away everything

other than it

 

names like al-Naqi

al-Sajjad

and others

are “names along with other names”

but they speak to me of essences

beyond the quark

transcendent yet historical links in a chain

back to the burial of Your Prophet in 632 AD / 10 AH

send him and his family blessings and peace!

back to You beyond time

but also

traveling companions for 2017 AD / 1439 AH

whispering to me

that one day

every tear will make sense

but also

forms encasing meanings

each an ocean

from which every time i take a sip

i am satiated

but also

dreams of another world

the resting place of human hopes

from the time of Adam

unto the end of the world

 

and i long for the one who carries their living legacy

who can speak to fire and make it cool

strike at the sea and provide safe passage

tell the dead to walk

and unfold every meaning of the Qur’an

for behind him

we would have no doubt in our direction

infallible commands

worthy of every cent under our control

more valuable than every drop of blood in our veins

the living leader of billions of embodied essences

attesting to Your oneness

so why suffice

with anyone less

 

my Lord

what i know is insignificant to what i do not

this is the best i have

no

this is how i feel You have washed me away

i planned none of this

wave upon wave of al-thaqalayn

has battered me

and asked me to consider it all

from beginning to end

the whole cosmos

my place in it

the reason we are

and where we hope to be

so that when ‘Allamah says

everything in itself is no more than a tale and a dream”

i feel my heart let go

my entire story

the last 38 years and whatever remains

as my essence gently settles

upon the soft petals of roses

upon them all blessings and peace!

rising upon a Divine wind

carrying me home to You

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When they tell you your life is naught but breath in the passing wind

That your history holds no beauty—show them from your end, you begin

Tell them your soil cradles seeds that when planted in blackened hearts

Are embraced by the sun’s touch, and at once from them darkness departs

That budded mouths that seem muted, blossom with sweet melodies

And hum heartbreaking tunes of a trampled garden’s tragedies

Tunes of beautiful flowers that once lived, looked on all with soft eyes

Gentle lions that in death are immortal, souls to heaven, they rise

But upon passing, broken petals have left a trail, a fluttering scent

Of minds empowered by love, of hearts that to the brim are content

There are gardens, but few roses, and the few that are found

Were long ago buried, abused, crushed deep into the ground

But called true Roses for having rose, risen after every demise

Lost everything but their God, so everything did they find

“Frangrance of the Found” by Aqeela Naqvi

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“The message of Shi’ism to the world can be summarized in one sentence: ‘To know God.’ Or in other words, it is to instruct man to follow the path of Divine realization and the knowledge of God in order to gain felicity and salvation. And this message is contained in the very phrase with which the Holy Prophet commenced his prophetic mission when he said: “Oh men! Know God in His Oneness (and acknowledge Him) so that you will gain salvation.”

As a summary explanation of this message we will add that man is attached by nature to many goals in this worldly life and to material pleasures. He loves tasty food and drink, fashionable dress, attractive palaces and surroundings, a beautiful and pleasing wife, sincere friends and great wealth. And in another direction, he is attracted to political power, position, reputation, the extension of his rule and dominion and the destruction of anything that is opposed to his wishes. But in his inner and primordial God-given nature, man understands that all these are means created for man, but man is not created for all these things. These things should be subservient to man and follow him and not vice versa. To consider the stomach and the region below it as a final end of life is the logic of cattle and sheep. To tear-up, cut and destroy others is the logic of the tiger, the wolf and the fox. The logic inherent in human existence is the attainment of wisdom and nothing else.

This logic based upon wisdom with the power which it possesses to discern between reality and the unreal. It guides us toward the truth and not toward things our emotions demand or toward passions, selfishness and egoism. This logic considers man as a part of the totality of creation without any separate independence or the possibility of a rebellious self-centeredness. In contrast to the current belief that man is the master of creation and tames rebellious nature and conquers it to force it to obey his wishes and desires, we find that in reality man himself is an instrument in the hand of Universal Nature and is ruled and commanded by it.

This logic based upon wisdom invites man to concentrate more closely upon the apprehension he has of the existence of this world until it becomes clear to him that the world of existence and all that is in it does not issue from itself but rather from an Infinite Source. He will then know that all this beauty and ugliness, all these creatures of the earth and the heavens, which appear outwardly as independent realities, gain reality only through another Reality and are manifested only in Its Light, and not by themselves and through themselves. In the same way that the “realities” as well as the power and grandeur of yesterday have no greater value than tales and legends of today, so are the “realities” of today no more than vaguely remembered dreams in relation to what will appear as “reality” tomorrow.

In the last analysis, everything in itself is no more than a tale and a dream. Only God is Reality in the absolute sense, the One Who does not perish. Under the protection of His Being, everything gains existence and becomes manifested through the Light of His Essence.

If man becomes endowed with such vision and power of apprehension, then the tent of his separative existence will fall down before his eyes like a bubble on the surface of water. He will see with his eyes that the world and all that is in it depend upon an Infinite Being who possesses life, power, knowledge and every perfection to an infinite degree. Man and every other being in the world are like so many windows that display according to their capacity the world of eternity which transcends them and lies beyond them.

It is at this moment that man takes from himself and all creatures the quality of independence and primacy and returns these qualities to their Owner. He detaches himself from all things to attach himself solely to the One God. Before His Majesty and Grandeur he does nothing but bow in humility. Only then does he become guided and directed by God so that whatever he knows he knows in God. Through Divine guidance he becomes adorned with moral and spiritual virtue and pure actions that are the same as Islam itself, the submission to God, the religion that is in the primordial nature of things.

This is the highest degree of human perfection and the rank of the perfect man (the Universal Man; al-Insan al-kamel), namely the impeccable Imam who has reached this rank through Divine grace. Furthermore, those who have reached this rank through the practice of spiritual methods, with the different ranks and stations that they possess, are the true followers of the Imam. It becomes thus clear that the knowledge of God and of the Imam are inseparable in the same way that the knowledge of God is inextricably connected to the knowledge of oneself.

For he who knows his own symbolic existence has already come to know the true existence that belongs solely to God who is independent and without need of anything whatsoever.

“Shi’ite Islam” by ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, pp. 195-6

what religion is

It has been about 24 years since I began reflecting on the religious aspects of human civilization. This is the definition of “religion” that I find most compelling. It wasn’t a sociologist nor an anthropologist nor a comparativist nor a structuralist nor a post-structuralist nor an anti-essentialist who won in the market place of ideas. It was an Iranian philosopher and exegete of the Qur’an who passed away in 1981, may God have mercy upon him.

“There is no doubt that each member of the human race is naturally drawn to his fellow-men and that in his life in society he acts in ways which are interrelated and interconnected. His eating, drinking, sleeping, keeping awake, talking, listening, sitting, walking, his social intercourse and meetings, at the same time that they are formally and externally distinct, are invariably connected with each other. One cannot perform just any act in any place or after any other act. There is an order which must be observed.

There is, therefore, an order which governs the actions man performs in the journey of this life, an order against which his actions cannot rebel. In reality, these acts all originate from a distinct source. That source is man’s desire to possess a felicitous life, a life in which he can react to the greatest extent possible the objects of his desire, and be gratified. Or, one could say that man wishes to provide in a more complete way for his needs in order to continue his existence.

This is why man continually conforms his actions to rules and laws either devised by himself or accepted from others, and why he selects a particular way of life for himself among all the other existing possibilities. He works in order to provide for his means of livelihood and expects his activities to be guided by laws and regulations that must be followed. In order to satisfy his sense of taste and overcome hunger and thirst, he eats and drinks, for he considers eating and drinking necessary for the continuation of his own happy existence. This rule could be multiplied by many other instances.

The rules and laws that govern human existence depend for their acceptance on the basic beliefs that man has concerning the nature of universal existence, of which he himself is a part, and also upon his judgment and evaluation of that existence. That the principles governing man’s actions depend on his conception of being as a whole becomes clear if one meditates a moment on the different conceptions that people hold as to the nature of the world and of man.

Those who consider the Universe to be confined only to this material, sensible world, and man himself to be completely material and therefore subject to annihilation when the breath of life leaves him at the moment of death, follow a way of life designed to provide for their material desires and transient mundane pleasures. They strive solely on this path, seeking to bring under their control the natural conditions and factors of life.

Similarly, there are those who, like the common people among idol-worshipers, consider the world of nature to be created by a god above nature who has created the world specially for man and his goodness. Such men organize their lives so as to attract the pleasure of the god and not invite his anger. They believe that if they please the god he will multiply his bounty and make it lasting and if they anger him he will take his bounty away from them.

On the other hand, such men as Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims follow the “high path” in this life for they believe in God and in man’s eternal life, and consider man to be responsible for his good and evil acts. As a result they accept as proven the existence of a day of judgment (qiyamat) and follow a path that leads to felicity in both this world and the next.

The totality of these fundamental beliefs concerning the nature of man and the Universe, and regulations in conformity with them which are applied to human life, is called religion (din). If there are divergences in these fundamental beliefs and regulations, they are called schools such as the Sunni and the Shi’ite schools in Islam and the Nestorian in Christianity. We can therefore say that man, even if he does not believe in the Deity, can never be without religion if we recognize religion as a program for life based on firm belief. Religion can never be separated from life and is not simply a matter of ceremonial acts.”

“Shi’ite Islam” by ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, pp. 29-30

Of course, this perspective overlaps with some critical insights within the Western intellectual tradition. In particular, Tabataba’i’s conception reminds me of aspects of the work of Pierre Bourdieu and William James. But ultimately, Tabataba’i is speaking of something so fundamental to the human condition, that once grasped, it is hard to think and live in a way that does not continuously affirm the truth of what he says.

and God knows best.

Ayatollah_tabatabai

speechless

I am so shook by something my friend Trent posted on his blog, I felt I had to share it here:

[A man] once said,

“It is thirty years that I have been seeking forgiveness for one phrase, ‘Praise be God’s’, that I allowed to pass my lips.”

When asked to explain he replied,

“One night the marketplace caught fire, and I left my house to see if the fire had reached my shop. When I heard that my shop was safe, I said, ‘Praise be God’s’. Instantly I was brought to my senses with the realization that, granted my shop was unharmed, should I not have been thinking about others’?

houston-floods

 

I finished the book about the science of space travel mentioned in my previous post. The level of complexity involved in sending a person to Mars and back is staggering. If one wanted to create human habitations on Mars, the cost would be simply enormous.

But what struck me most was the obvious fact that one can never go outside. I live in Manhattan, one of the most urban environments on Earth. Sometimes, I feel so disconnected from nature that I just need to go for a walk in the park and see some trees. Sometimes I leave the city altogether just to re-center. In space, on the Moon, or on Mars, you can never do that. Instead, incredibly complex and costly human technologies need to surround you to keep you alive. You have to literally be plugged in all the time.

Through this reflection I have come to a greater appreciation for the natural systems that sustains us. The air we breath. The wind in our hair. Running water. It is on Earth, and nowhere else within our reach. It is in the middle of Manhattan, Cairo, or Tokyo just as much as any jungle, forest, or pristine tropical island.

When I was a kid, I saw the movie Total Recall and started fantasizing about the colonization of Mars. The book I read ended with a discussion of this possibility. Yet, the average temperature on Mars is only slightly less cold than the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth! It would make a lot more sense and be a lot less costly to build habitations on Antarctica than in space. On Antarctica, you can breath the air and drink the water. But that doesn’t fit the secular faith in space as our destiny. Mars colonization is a dream born of the terrible secular fear that humanity may never leave Earth, and that the exhilarating drama of human exploration has limits.

I guess Manhattan is not so “divorced from nature” as I usually think. It is a far nicer than anything space has to offer. Alhamdulillah.

df-20457_rv2

I just made a really important decision: the books I plan to bring with me during two weeks of travel insha’Allah.

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If you can’t read the titles in the photo, here they are:

  • The Fourteen Infallibles by Ammar Nakshawani: Contemporary reflections on Shi’i sacred history.
  • The Traveler’s Guide to Space by Neil Comins: Description of how space travel works and what to expect in the coming decades.
  • Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown: Detailed biography of one of Christianity’s most revered saints.
  • The Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam by S. H. M. Jafri: Academic-devotional study of early Islamic history.
  • India: A Sacred Geography by Diana Eck:  Study of how the geography of India is an essential aspect of the Hindu tradition.

If you have read or are reading any of these texts, please send me your thoughts! While I am looking forward to a change of pace (traveling to Georgia, Texas, and Martha’s Vineyard back-to-back insha’Allah), I will miss my library. But at least I can make an attempt to find someone to engage with online in regards to my vacation bibliography!

In the meantime, an early Eid Mubarak to all of you!

!كل عام و أنتم بخير

the long road

I have literally been pondering a question for at least 6 months, without finding anything in “the tradition” that elucidates the issue clearly and without ambiguity. Yesterday, I sat down on my couch, looked at my bookshelf, saw a book, and went and opened it. Without any effort, I found the answer.

The intellectual instinct only develops after the development of the carnal desires, anger, and other blameworthy characteristics which Satan uses as his medium to seduce people. The intellect only reaches perfection around the age of forty years. Its formative stage is only complete at adolescence, and its fundamentals only begin to appear after the age of seven. The carnal desires are the troops of Satan, while intellects are the troops of the angels. When the two meet, they inevitably fight since neither allows the other to persist. They are in opposition, antagonistic – like night and day, light and darkness; when one prevails, it necessarily irks the other. If the carnal desires develop fully in a child or youth before the intellect is perfected, the forces of Satan will have a head start. They will seize the grounds and descend upon the heart, which will incline to them. Without doubt, that person will habitually side with the carnal desires and be overpowered by them; uprooting them will be very difficult.

Then, the intellect – which is the legion of Allah, the saviour of His saints from the hands of His enemies – will appear bit by bit. If it does not develop to full strength, the kingdom of the heart will surrender to Satan, who will carry out what he swore when he said, “I will surely bring his descendants under my sway, all but a few” (17.62). But if the intellect develops to full strength, its first task will be to quell the troops of Satan by breaking the carnal desires, abandoning habits, and fighting inner inclinations so that worshipfulness will prevail…

In all of existence, there is no person whose intellect is not preceded by his carnal desires; the drive which serves as a tool of Satan precedes the drive which serves as a tool for the angels. Returning from that former state, which was reached with the aid of the carnal desires, is essential for every person…

This is from the book “Spiritual Mysteries and Ethical Secrets” by Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani (p. 573-4). It comes during a discussion of repentance (tawba). He shows how the intellect is the aspect of the human personality that takes repentance seriously. Its main enemy is a different aspect of the human personality based on desire, which he states in another passage as being founded fundamentally on our yearnings for food and sex (p. 114-5). As he states, “they are in opposition,” and the intellect only develops later in life, yet must fight hard against desires “to erase their traces which have been impressed on the heart” (p. 575).

This is a perfect description of my own experience of converting to Islam at the age of 19, and now continuing to struggle against my self at the age of 38. I literally feel myself grappling with elements of my self that I can clearly see existed within me at least as early as junior high in the early 90s. I am literally trying to become an adult who I have never actually been. Mind boggling.

For me, this is clear and unequivocal “wisdom of the tradition,” and I feel I found it at precisely the moment God intended me to find it. Of course, it is entirely possible that somewhere deep in my brain I knew where it was, since I read this book a year and half ago. But it felt like a “soft miracle” when I found it yesterday, explaining for me the reality of my spiritual journey (suluk). As they say, God works in mysterious ways that I still don’t fully understand. All I know is that I am in need, and God is the Provider.

But as I once reminded myself,

This is the most serious type of knowledge, because it demands that I bring all of myself to its doorstep. I must check my intention, for it demands sincerity. I must be committed to pushing my self, because it demands improvement. I must admit my inevitable limitations, for it demands that I read in the name of “the One who taught by the pen / taught humanity that which they did not know.” This type of knowledge is unique because it has no meaning unless it is embodied – one might read one line that takes years to implement in one’s life.

Indeed, what Fayd Kashani has described in a few paragraphs is the essence of the greatest challenge I have ever faced, unfolding over almost two decades. As I reflect on this, I wonder where I might be two decades hence, at the ripe old age of 58 insha’Allah. Better yet, where will I be 40 days from now, on September 20th? Perhaps with the help of your prayers, I will be better than I am, by God’s Grace.

So please pray for me. I need it, for even though the road has been long, I am still only in the middle of my journey.

حسبي الله

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وَأَمَّا بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثْ

and as for your Lord’s blessing, proclaim it! (93.11)

I exist. Is there anything more remarkable than that?! That in the approximately 14,000,000,000 years that this Universe has been developing, at this moment it has given rise to me right now?!

Has there been for man a period of time when he was not anything worthy of mention? (76.1)

Subhan Allah! سبحان الله

Ya Musawwir (O Fashioner)! يا مصور

It is literally impossible for my mind to encompass the entirety of the material processes through which I have come to exist, and sit typing these words.

If you enumerate Allah’s blessings, you will not be able to count them. Indeed Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful. (16.18)

Of all that could have been created, I am one of the possible existents that has form. What a joy that You have made me exist, my Lord, and blessed me to worship You! I wish I could bottle this feeling. I wish I could let every single human being know that they are an expression of Love. That their fingers were chosen specifically by the Creator of all that has ever existed.

Yes indeed, We are able to proportion [even] his fingertips! (75.4)

Ya Wadud (O Loving)! يا ودود

You made me! You opened my eyes to the wonders of the world You created! You gave me a tongue through which I can taste every marvelous miracle You have invented! You make the heart beat in my chest every day so that I can walk around this planet that You have spread out for us!

O You who gave rise to my creation, to the remembrance of me, to the nurture of me, to goodness toward me and to nourishment on me, Bestow upon me for the sake of Your having given rise [to me] with generosity and Your previous goodness to me! (Du’a Kumayl)

How could anyone be described with generosity in light of Your generosity! You share with us something of Being that is inherent to You alone, and by that gift everything we have ever known is made possible! Every lover’s love! Every dreamers dream! Every hopers hope! It is all with You, by You, through You!!!

…Surely it is said of a thing that was not, and then was, ‘When was it?’ But my Lord-blessed is He and high exalted – was ever-living without ‘how’ and had no ‘was’. His Being had no ‘how’, nor had it any ‘where’. He was not in anything, nor was He on anything. He did not bring into existence a place for His Being. He increased not in strength after bringing things into being, nor was He weak before bringing things into being. And He was not lonely before creating things. He resembles nothing brought into being…His Being has no ‘how’, nor has it any ‘where’, nor has it any limit. He is not known through anything resembling Him. He ages not through the duration of His subsistence…He was the First, without ‘how’, and He will be the Last, without ‘where’. And “All things perish, except His Face” (28.88). “His are the creation and the command. Blessed be God, the Lord of all beings!” (7.54)… (narrated from Imam al-Baqir, upon him peace)

Allah Allah Allah! الله الله الله

In this moment, my Lord, I beseech You to grant the best of this life and the next to all living human beings! Those I know and those I do not and those I never will! For You know them all, because You created them!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for the gift of life!

Ya Hayy (O Living) Ya Muhyi (O Giver of Life)! يا حي يا محيي

I have no words left. There is nothing I can say that even begins to express these truths. So let me end with Your Words.

O people! If you are in doubt about the resurrection, [consider that] We indeed created you from dust, then from a drop of [seminal] fluid, then from a clinging mass, then from a fleshy tissue, partly formed and partly unformed, so that We may manifest [Our power] to you. We establish in the wombs whatever We wish for a specified term, then We bring you forth as infants, then [We rear you] so that you may come of age. [Then] there are some of you who are taken away, and there are some of you who are relegated to the nethermost age, so that he knows nothing after [having possessed] some knowledge. And you see the earth torpid, yet when We send down water upon it, it stirs and swells, and grows every delightful kind [of plant]. That is because Allah is the Reality and it is He who revives the dead, and He has power over all things (22.5-6)

ZAK0513SIC10

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