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The Greater Islam

I need to let go.

I need to say to myself, “You have taken into consideration the myriad issues at play in the interpretation of the religious history of humanity, and you have done your spiritual due diligence (muḥāsaba) in regards to your own obligations to God and humanity vis-a-vis the Islamic tradition.”

And then just rely on God.

That unmediated, natural sense of dependence on the Creator.

Because I don’t know how to move beyond the spiritual state that I have been in.

I sent an email to a teacher. And then followed up weeks later when I didn’t hear anything. Still nothing.

But I have to remember that the teacher has no power of his own.

God holds all the keys and created all the doors.

لَهُ مَقَالِيدُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَقْدِرُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيم

“To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth: He expands the provision for whomever He wishes, and tightens it for whomever He wishes. Indeed He has knowledge of all things.” (42.12)

If I need a teacher, God will provide me one.

‘Allamah Tabataba’i states:

Islām-i akbar consists of total submission and absolute surrender before God, that is to say, renunciation of all complaints and objections before Him, Almighty and Glorious is He. It also connotes the recognition of the fact that anything that exists, or any event that takes place, is destined by God and, therefore, good; and that which does not occur is not in one’s best interest. In short, Islām-i akbar calls for total abstinence from questioning and complaining in regard to the Almighty Lord.” (Kernel of the Kernel, pp. 45-6)

Is not today exactly as it should be?

Is not God capable of all things?

Has not God shown me favor and answered my entreaties countless times before?

And so I need to let go of any resentment, frustration, and confusion.

And just rely on God.

Stay home. Make du’a.

I have a suspicion that Republicans are holding out on the election in hopes that they provoke the Left to take to the streets.

All they need is crowds of people in masks with raised fists to spin it that they are going to save America.

Stay home.

Make du’a.

We are already sacred.

When we think of the foundational ritual of our religion, it is the ṣalāt.

It is nothing but our bodies, the land and water.

The land upon which we live.

The water that we need to survive.

The bodies through which we have this human experience.

The ritual that our Creator call us to perform every day is rooted in the ever-present sacredness of us and our surroundings.

It requires nothing else but that which is already there as the foundations of human life on Earth.

We are already sacred, and the ṣalāt is a reminder of that reality.

We can forget.

We can temporarily unpurify our bodies, the ground and/or the water.

But daily connection with the sacred is intention–>water–>body–>land.

It is the foundational truth to which we return again and again.

The stark confrontation with the real.

Land. Water. Bodies.

الله الله الله

the mercy of the veil

We were sitting in the New York University prayer room, overlooking Washington Square Park.

Across from the fountain and arch, there are large apartment buildings that we could see from our 5th floor view.

Our teacher that day, Shaykh Khalil, had a message for us that I will never forget.

“One of the mercies that we do not always perceive is the mercy of the veil.”

What was he getting at?

“There are so many thing happening around us all the time, and we do not even know, but Allah knows. You see that apartment building across the park? Perhaps someone is being raped in there right now. Perhaps a child is being abused. Perhaps a murder is taking place. And we are veiled from all of it.”

I felt my heart sink. It was true. In a city like New York, beneath the veneer of nice restaurants and quirky street performers lay something sinister. One could feel it.

“But Allah does not ask you to confront all of it. Because you can’t handle it.”

***

I think about that day a lot. The cruelty of the world overwhelms me, what little of it I can comprehend. I have witnessed things that have changed me forever. But I still have hope in eternal meanings that help me to reconcile it all.

I don’t know what the future holds. Like many, I am sometimes filled with anxiety and worry. But I am thankful for the fact that Allah is gentle with me. I am still a recipient of the mercy of the veil.

in due time

I want to remember these two moments clearly.

First moment:

I have been wanting to go to Mashhad in Iran, so that I can make the ziyāra of Imām al-Riḍā عليه السلام. I was speaking with a shaykh in the winter about going this past summer, but it obviously was not possible due to COVID. I try to do things to keep this intention fresh, because it is important to me. But at times I feel despondent, partially because of COVID and partially because of the Trump administration’s belligerent stance towards Iran. At times I have felt overwhelmed and trapped when thinking about this.

Then I was reading in a book about an Iranian shaykh wanting to visit his Iraqi teacher. In telling the story of how they met up in Syria, he casually mentioned that due to Iraq’s belligerence towards Iran in the aftermath of the Revolution, he wasn’t able to go for ziyāra in Iraq for sixteen years!!! At that moment, I knew that my intention has to stay fresh at least for the next 15 years (2035).

Second moment:

At times, I want so badly to see the blessed people of the past, it hurts. I want to see with my own eyes the people to whom we give our allegiance – the same people about whom we debate endlessly. I just want to break through all those words to the people that those words are about. At times, it feels like I just go on waiting and waiting, and it will never happen.

Then I was reading in a book, and a story was told about a man who prayed for 30 years for something. One day, the man meets up with the Prophet Ibrahīm عليه السلام but does not know who he is, and they walk together. Eventually he tells the prophet that he has been praying for something for 30 years and it still hasn’t come to fruition. The prophet replies that, “when Allah holds a creature dear, He delays the acceptance of his prayers so that he may continue to plead and supplicate Him.” So the prophet asks him what he has been praying for, and the man reveals that he has been praying to see Prophet Ibrahīm عليه السلام. The prophet replies, “Now your prayer has been answered. I am that Ibrahīm.”

I knew in that moment that I have only been yearning for maybe 5 years, so I at least have to be prepared to wait another 25 (2045).

The signs are there, even when we aren’t looking for them.

yā Allāh, as long as I can still move about on this Earth, I will want to go to Mashhad, and as long as I still have eyes I will want to see my beloveds. I will ask this of You today and tomorrow as a matter of worship, and will await Your decision with patience. You have taught me in these two moments that I have no right to feel overwhelmed by either of these things.

You have reminded me that things happen in due time

according to Your decision

not mine.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

A Letter to a Shaykh

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Dear Shaykh Sayyid ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn Dastghaib Shīrāzī,

السلام عليكم و ر حمة الله

I do not know that much about you, but I know that you were assassinated on the way to prayer. And I know your book about sin. I have been reading it as a form of muḥāsaba (taking account of one’s praiseworthy and blameworthy actions and inward states). It is very challenging for me. It reminds me of all the times I failed to obey Allah, and all the inward characteristics that have made me prefer what I want to what Allah wants. Honestly, at an earlier point in my journey, I am not sure I would have been able to handle it. I read it slowly, when I am up for it, so that I can take it as seriously as possible.

But I want to take the time to thank you for writing it. You were writing it for a context very different than my own, but I have benefitted from it. You probably never thought someone like me would end up reading it, but we plan and Allah plans and Allah is the best of planners. May Allah reward you for writing it, and may these rewards comfort you in the barzakh.

I don’t know what your life is like right now. But I think the best about you, because everything that I know about you indicates that you wanted to please Allah and the Messenger of Allah, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. One day I hope to be able to visit your grave in Shiraz. And I hope to be given the tawfīq (Divinely-granted success) of finishing your book and implementing it, as well as reading more of your works translated into English. Insha’Allah.

If Allah gives you the ability, please pray to Allah for me. Ask Allah to make me someone who never intentionally chooses the ḥarām (that which has been categorically forbidden for Muslims to do), and to forgive me completely for every time I did in the past. That I become someone who does not look at the smallness of the sin that I am inclined towards, but the greatness of the One whom I am turning away from.

The struggle is hard. Long hopes and the pleasures of the world whisper to us who are still here. But where you are, the Truth is laid bare. To be honest, I cannot even imagine it. I know that one day I will be there too, but it still seems so unreal. Maybe that is why I am writing this letter – to remind myself that I am ultimately on my way to visit you.

Perhaps one day you and I will be sitting together in the company of Imam Ḥusayn, upon him peace…just thinking of the possibility makes me want to be there right now.

But I do not get to choose how long this road goes on. All I can choose is what to do with the time that has been given me. And so I am taking the time to write this letter, which I had been thinking about for the last week. Thank you for reading this letter – I trust that the angels will translate its contents if necessary.

If there is any more advice or help you can provide to this weary traveler, please do so. I really need it.

your student,

R. David Coolidge

Tomb_of_Ayatollah_Dastghayb

People often ask about how to develop a culture of Azadari (mourning commemorations for Imam Husayn) in the English language.

The short answer is that it is a work in progress, and it takes all of us trying out different things, and sharing with each other.

I have written one song to be used in majalis. I know it is not perfect. But I hope by sharing it someone with more talent than myself might improve upon it. Anyone has my permission to recite it without attribution. There is a video at the bottom that demonstrates how I have recited it, but no one should feel that they have to recite it that way. I provide it simply as an example.

Here are the lyrics:

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

Standing on this plane
Preparing to die
I have no more questions
No reason to ask why
Your house is my life
My sword is for you
I am ready to do
whatever you want me to

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

All of this life
Is for your one breath
All of these men
Will defend you til death
Now the time has come
To stand in front of you
My body is a shield
Just as God wants me to

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

This blood in my eyes
Makes it hard to see
I think that is you
Who is looking down on me
I would give my life again
For the son of Fatima
al-salam ‘alayk
Ya Aba Abdillah

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

[here is a video I made to accompany these lyrics]

So happy to announce that my first academic article on the Hindu tradition has been published masha’Allah. It is entitled “Dharma of Bhakti, Dharma of Mlecchas: Muslim Engagement with Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism as a Living Tradition” and is available in the latest issue of the Journal of Dharma Studies. For those interested in academic articles, you can get it through your university library, from my academia.edu page, or I can send you the pdf.

Here is the basic argument: Beginning with al-Birūnī (a classical Muslim scholar who died around the year 1048), Muslims have written studies of the Hindu tradition. However, they have not covered all Hindu schools of thought, and contemporary Muslim scholars must continue to engage with these schools of thought as living traditions. One such tradition that has not received enough scholarly attention is the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition, which emerged in Bengal app. 500 years ago. Muslims were the political rulers at the time, and the Gauḍīya tradition incorporated Muslims into their theological framework. For example, the image on this post is of the famous encounter between Caitanya (the “founder” of the Gauḍīya tradition), and the local Muslim judge who is known in their sacred literature as “Chand Kazi.” In addition, Caitanya opened his movement to all peoples, including those who were Muslim by birth. Due to the preaching efforts of a traditional guru from this tradition, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the Gauḍīya tradition became a global tradition in the latter half of the 20th century. As such, 21st century Muslims need to understand Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism as a global religious tradition that aspires to universality just as the Islamic and Christian traditions do. Other points are made as well, particularly in regards to the methodology of interreligious scholarship, but I will leave that for those who want to read the full article.

Feel free to ask any questions, I will try my best to respond in a timely fashion insha’Allah. May Allah accept. āmīn.

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basmala2

Dear God

It is Sunday night here in Oakland

I know that You already know that

but I just want to set the scene

I am here because of a thousands of decisions I have made in the past

and a few in the present

but most of all because of Covid-19

Because if there was not a global pandemic

There are a variety of possible places I could be

Let me start with Mashhad

I feel that You are calling me to make ziyāra to Mashhad

and I was taking the steps to go there

but the pandemic took that option off the table

c’est la vie

one might say

but I prefer

qaddar Allāha wa mā shā’a fa‘al (God decrees and does what God wills)

I mean

let’s be real

if anyone is responsible for Covid-19

it is You

I don’t say that to challenge You

-in fact, please keep me and my family healthy!-

but this is a really really palpable experience of Your Decree

Like hundreds of millions of us, if not billions of us

had summer plans

and now we are just hanging out at home

-thank You for our home!-

plans over. full stop.

so this prayer is for the week ahead

my wife will do her remote work during the days

and our son and I will hang out together

-there are no summer camps! I tried!-

and so I ask You to bless us in it

I don’t really know what that blessing looks like

rather, it is just that I know what the three of us are going to be doing

and so please bless us in the doing of that

make it as positive as possible for all of us

for You are the Source of All Benefit (al-Nāfi‛)

and please forgive me if You don’t like it

when I speak to You through my fingertips

it’s just hard for me to figure out what to say

when my hands are raised

and instead I just say the same Arabic prayers

that I am used to praying all the time

not that there is anything wrong with that

-in fact, they express what I want to say so succinctly and deeply!-

but tonight I want to use my own words

and it is easier to articulate myself to You in writing

and so here I am, in our house

looking ahead at days and nights that unfold pretty much the same

as the last few weeks

but let me say this

You know I have wanted to fight for You

You know that I have struggled to be on the side of Your friends

and far from the company of Your enemies

to be from the people of Earth who end up in al-Jannah

and not from the people of Earth who end up in al-Nār

and when I first started on this path

I didn’t think weeks like this coming week

or last week

were going to be part of it

I had been thinking more battles would be involved

more sitting on the floor

learning from dudes with beards and turbans

that’s more my speed

but at least for the coming weeks

I am here

now

and it is in the here and the now that I have to submit to You

the Islam of making lunch, practicing reading, and Nerf battles

so from this state of utter ineffectuality

in the world of power and struggle

I ask that You

the Possessor of Sovereignty (Mālik al-Mulk)

before whom the armies of the world can be vanquished with one shout

consider me as one of Your soldiers

that even though my outward is engaged

with the rights of my family

accept my inward intention

to be in the frontline of struggle in Your way

and let my utter lack of power give way

to an ever-increasing awareness of Your Power

for “Power belongs entirely to Allah”

and I am nothing but a vessel

for Your will

and this week that means being a Dad

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salawat-calligraphy

 

Dear God,

I know You know everything I am going to say before I say it, so let me thank You for the opportunity to discover what I am going to say for myself.

Before the month of Ramadan came, I taught over ZOOM about the experience of praying to You. I described it as therapy. I even mentioned that if someone can’t find the right words while making du’a, they can always write a letter to You. So I am taking my own advice right now.

There is no way I can summarize everything that has led me to this point. Even though I have lived it and am the world’s foremost expert, explaining my autobiography involves a bit of selection from the mass of daily events that encompass my lived experience of walking the road back to You, in the world created by You, with the body You have given me, amidst the thoughts that only You and I know. You remember it all in perfect detail from every angle, so I guess recalling it is just for my own benefit.

Let me start on the day I prayed istikhara about going to the Philippines in the following week. It is something I really wanted to do. I had been thinking about it for a year. Now or never. And then I googled “Manila” and there was a volcano erupting. That’s a pretty clear istikhara. I focus on that moment because I knew there was a lot of my nafs in my desire to make that trip. The reason I made the ikstikhara is because I just couldn’t tease out where my nafs ended and more noble concerns began. It was all jumbled together. Would I be traveling to get a break from my wife and son, or to visit a country that my country formally oppressed? Would I be getting on a plane to reflect on a part of Your creation I have never seen, or was I simply looking for a little bit of adventure.

But it is what it is. That was such a clear moment, when I finally tipped into just leaving it up to You, and You gave me such a clear answer.

I think that is what frustrates me sometimes. Since I am thinking it I might as well say it – sometimes I wish You would just give me more of what I want.

But perhaps I am writing this letter to You to acknowledge that that time is over.

The idea of “I want” doesn’t mean what it used to mean. I can no longer see clearly what I want, because what I want has often had to be avoided, suppressed, given up, or even eradicated.

I think if a different sequence of events had led to this moment I would have been in a state of doubt. The fact that a fundamental part of my adult sense of self is withering away would have been too much to bear, and I would want to rise up and seize the situation. “No,” the hero says, “life is about living your dreams, and even though I am getting old I still have a lot of life left in me yet!’

But it is the month of Ramadan now, and the world out there feels like the world inside.

الدنيا سجن المؤمن

ُThe Earth is a prison for the believer.

Everyone in the Philippines is probably wearing a facemask right now, staying inside. There are no halal restaurants open in Manila to explore in the warm evening air. There is no “there” to go that is really different from “here.” Everywhere we might run, we have to face the truth.

ضَاقَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الْأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ أَنفُسُهُمْ وَظَنُّوا أَن لَّا مَلْجَأَ مِنَ اللَّهِ إِلَّا إِلَيْهِ

The earth has become narrow despite its expanse, and our own souls weigh heavily on us, and we know that there is no refuge from Allah except to Allah.

There is nowhere to flee to right now. All that my nafs wants exists merely in my own mind and heart, a tiny kingdom of selfish fantasy trying to defend against my mental jihad.

So I guess this brings me to my request.

I accept that this is where I have arrived at this moment.

I accept that despite the hurt inside, there is good in this.

So I am asking You to strengthen the ranks of my ‘aql, and give us victory in an onslaught against the nafs that seeks to break through a line of its defenses that have never fallen before.

Let me heed the words of Ayatollah Amini رحمة الله عليه when he wrote:

“If we address our self, we must say: You belong to the heavenly kingdom of knowledge, life, perfection, virtues, benevolence and blessings; you are God’s Vicegerent upon the earth; you are human and have been created for eternal life in the Next World and God’s Nearness; you are superior than animals and following animalistic passions is not worthy of your existence.”

Help me to believe that I can become someone whom I have never been.

You know me better than I know me.

You have brought me here, my Lord.

Now guide me on the next leg of the journey, because I don’t know where to go.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

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