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Archive for the ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ Category

farewell

when i was young

and the world was new

i was filled with joy

at everything i could do

 

the spring brought rain

and in summer felt sun

i could dance, i could laugh

i could swim, i could run

 

but at times i would feel

a piercing cold wind blow

and wonder in my heart

about those below

 

i approached an adult

with a question in my heart

“what happens when we die?”

and the fear began to start

 

they said they did not know

and about this we do not think

there is so much to enjoy

to eat, to touch, to drink

 

but as the years passed

that fear began to creep

in the darkness of the night

when you cannot sleep

 

the blinding of the I

the ending of the me

the world will go on

and nowhere i shall be

 

but then there came a man

whose name was al-Mustafa

who said in death is life

nothing to fear at all

 

only One should be feared

who gave you life at first

who satisfies your hunger

and takes away your thirst

 

if you walk in His way

you will never be alone

even in your grave

angels will come to bring you home

 

and for years I walked with Him

and He blessed me with a son

hoping to see him safe

until my life is done

 

but then the One he told me

about the son of al-Husayn

and learned that I know nothing

of tragedy and pain

 

in ancient sands, under burning skies

death was all around

body upon bloody body

sinking into the ground

 

if i had looked when i was young

only despair would i have seen

unable to bear history’s oppression

what could this possibly mean

 

but for the sake of Truth and Justice

this precious one did die

lying in his father’s lap

looking into the sky

 

“my grandfather is coming

to quench my bitter thirst

come join us soon, my father

as I take the journey first”

 

to a place beyond sadness

where dreams are reality

manifest by the One who made us

and everything you see

 

the One who crafted imagination

and the heights of the human soul

from nothing came all of this

and everything we know

 

But ‘Ali al-Akbar could see

something that we cannot

a sacred drop from Heaven’s rain

that brings forth tears that do not stop

 

for the love of al-Mustafa

with trust in the All-Mighty One

Husayn let his oldest son die

certain that Heaven he had won

 

for this life will end, there is no doubt

and we will all face the final test

but can we watch our little one die

the one we had held to our chest

 

can we let go of our hopes and dreams

and still know that Allah is there

can we undergo life’s crushing trials

and still believe He cares

 

well I say to the world and all who will hear

Husayn faced more than we know

yet he never backed down and never gave up

for he knew where we all will go

 

it is better to live a moment for God

than to spend a lifetime clinging to Earth

better to know one’s precious soul

the source of the human’s worth

 

better to fear Justice’s wrath

and hope in Mercy’s embrace

to let go of our tight grasp upon this life

and seek out our Master’s face

 

to seek for the beauty of a boy who stood tall

and made his grandfather proud

the reflection of the greatest of Allah’s creation

whose battle cry he shouted out loud

 

“Do you know who I am, by the Ka’ba’s Lord

I am the son of Husayn and ‘Ali

I will strike you down with the sharpest of swords

so come face this young Hashimi!”

 

and with that I lost the fear of my youth

a poison that destroys any heart

for the call of Husayn is that we cannot die

even if our body is torn apart

 

the One who made the man you see

from a single drop of fluid despised

will create me again and make me stand

under dark and foreboding skies

 

the pregnant will forget the child she has

the friend will turn into foe

and the result of our lives will be revealed

the truth of existence we will know

 

we will see it all with our very eyes

the veil will finally be gone

and on the Day we face that test

our tears will help us along

 

these tears we shed are not in vain

they are our soul longing to be free

yearning for our everlasting home

where with our Imam we can be

 

by the Grace and Mercy of the One

Each of us has a choice

and the best advice I can give to you

is listen for ‘Ali al-Akbar’s voice

 

listen to him calling you

repeating, “there is nothing to fear”

for my father and I are waiting for you

and the end of the journey is near

 

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trying to speak to God

Last night, I felt so close to God that I felt like I was not real – a fading shadow, soon gone from the world. For hours, I was trying to put into words what I was feeling, but nothing felt adequate. Then I read the words attributed to Imam al-Sajjad, upon him peace, and they expressed it better than I ever could.

 

O God,

if You will

You will pardon us through Your bounty

and if You will,

You will chastise us through Your justice.

So make our ways smooth to Your pardon through Your kindness

and grant us sanctuary from Your chastisement through Your forbearance,

for none of us has the endurance for Your justice

and none of us can reach deliverance without Your pardon!

O Richest of the rich!

Here we are, Your servants, before You.

I am the neediest of the needy toward You,

so redress our neediness through Your plenty

and cut us not off from our hopes through Your withholding,

lest You make wretched him who seeks felicity through You

and deprive him who seeks help from Your bounty!

Then to whom would we return after You?

Where would we go from Your gate?

Glory be to You!

We are the distressed,

the response to whom You have made incumbent,

the people from whom You have promised to remove evil

That thing most resembling Your will

and that affair most worthy for You in Your mightiness

is showing mercy to him who asks You for mercy

and helping him who seeks help from You.

So show mercy upon our pleading with You

and free us from need when we throw ourselves before You!

O God,

Satan will gloat over us if we follow him in disobeying You,

so bless Muhammad and his Household

and let him not gloat over us after we have renounced him for You

and beseeched You against him!

 

[modified translation of du’a #10 from al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiya]

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What were you thinking

my Imam

upon you peace

when you last looked at the House of God

 

Did you think of your forefather Abraham

hands worn from work

looking at the completed structure

praying for the future

 

Did you think of your great grandfather Abu Talib

sweating under the blazing sun

boycotted while the Banu Umayya

relaxed in its shade

 

Did you think of your grandfather

the blessed Messenger of God

blessings and peace upon him and his family

making tawaf in his farewell pilgrimage

and wonder how things had come to this

 

Did you think of your father ‘Ali

born inside its sacred walls

murdered in a mihrab

in faraway Kufa

 

Was the House of God

my Imam

a reminder of your family

of what had passed

and what was yet to come

 

Did you leave that blessed place

– even though you had more right to it than anyone –

because of the God who made it sacred

knowing that those who pursued you

had no shame

 

What was in your mind and heart

my Master

as time’s unfolding

and the plotting of men

drew you away

from a place you loved

and that loved you too

 

And as you began your journey

did you think of your son

who would one day return

and inspire the poet to speak:

This is the son of Husayn and the grandson of Fatima, the daughter of the Apostle, through whom the darkness dispersed

This is he whose ability the valley (of Mecca) recognizes, He is known by the (Sacred) House and the Holy sanctuary, and the lands outside the sanctuary

and know with certainty

that even should your body be desecrated

to protect the purity of this House

God would always preserve what you stood for

echoing the words of your great-great-grandfather across time:

“this House has a Lord Who will defend it”

 

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so many years I have wondered

what it means to be a Muslim

after the burial of the Messenger of God

blessings and peace be upon him and his family

I have listened and listened

to every voice tell me what it might be

and I have found that there is nothing as clear

as sacrificing one’s life

to defend the grandson of the Messenger of God

blessings and peace be upon him and his family

and the fact that so few

made that decision

makes all the difference

 

I listened to the Sunni khateeb

remind us not to be selfish

not to make our Salat nor our Hajj

about me, me, me

but instead turn outwards

and connect our worship of God

to our love for God’s creatures

and I finally realized

that opening my heart

to the tears and the blood and the centuries of burdens

was a way to make my worship

more acceptable to God

for what is more selfish

than forgetting

 

the next time I go to the Ka’ba

if God so wills

I will bring with me for the first time

the memories of al-Sajjad

the confinement of al-Naqi

the loneliness of al-Zahra

and so much more

that I never brought before

when it was just

me, me, me

 

you do not need to travel

to the east nor the west

to find Truth and Justice

you need only turn your attention

to Karbala’s burning sands

and listen to the story

of a few heroes

who lived Islam

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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

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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.

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Signs

I had to fill in this afternoon for a friend’s pre-iftar halaqa. I chose as my topic Surah al-Taghabun. In commenting on the second ayah – “[Allah] created you and from you are disbelievers and from you are believers” – I remarked that all of us living today have to look for signs that we may be true believers (mu’minun). It is not the case that we have access to an infallible leader who tells us exactly what to do, like how the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) told the archers at Uhud not to abandon their posts. Those of previous generations had to struggle to live up to the demands of following an infallible (ma’sum) directly. Part of our unique struggle is holding onto faith in the face of so many fallible leaders who cannot answer our questions, let alone deliver trustworthy commands. But we are not off the hook, because we still know without a doubt that we must, for example, fast during the month of Ramadan. So when we gather together to reflect on Allah’s Book right before breaking our fast, we can take it as a good sign.

Later on, while reflecting on a portion of the third ayah – “and [Allah] formed you and perfected your forms” – I spent some time reflecting on the physicality of the Garden (al-Jannah). Contrary to other religious traditions, both Sunni and Shi’i theology affirms that our bodies will be recreated in a more exalted form than our current body. Pleasure will be more pleasurable. We will be more beautiful. Our capacities to experience the blessings of God will be far beyond what we are currently capable of. And in reflecting on that, I mentioned that the joy we get when we break our fast is a reminder of the joy we will experience, by God’s Grace (rahma), when we break our fast from this world. For it is normal and natural to want to experience things with our bodies. Food, drink, spending time with friends and family, romantic encounters filled with desire – these are all part of how Allah created us as embodied entities. Our faith teaches us that God’s Bounty (fadl) has no limit, and that what we must avoid in this world is not to make us depressed, but rather to prepare us for eternal enjoyments that our minds literally cannot fathom.

And so when we closed with a du’a, right before breaking our fast, we asked God to grant us all those things. Things that will make us know so deeply and eternally that with God there is no real loss. For the believer there is only gain upon gain.

And so my heart trembled when I opened the Qur’an on this blessed night and read the following words:

Those who were mindful of God are in Gardens and in bliss, rejoicing in their Lord’s gifts: He has saved them from the torment of the Blaze, ‘Eat and drink with healthy enjoyment as a reward for what you have done.’ They are comfortably seated on couches arranged in rows; We pair them with beautiful-eyed maidens; We unite the believers with their offspring who followed them in faith––We do not deny them any of the rewards for their deeds: each person is in pledge for his own deeds––We provide them with any fruit or meat they desire. They pass around a cup which does not lead to any idle talk or sin. Devoted youths like hidden pearls wait on them. They turn to one another and say, ‘When we were still with our families [on earth] we used to live in fear–– God has been gracious to us and saved us from the torment of intense heat- We used to pray to Him: He is the Good, the Merciful One.’ (al-Tur, 17-28)

We look for signs, and when we receive them, we are grateful for the God who reminds us that our prayers are heard. I am not sure I can think of a more vivid and concise portion of the Qur’an that expresses what I was speaking about earlier tonight. For I had even mentioned that fear – the feeling that how can things truly work out when in human history so many righteous people suffer and so many tyrants prosper. And so I reflected for a bit on the example of Imam Husayn, upon him peace. He reminds us that even if you have to watch most of your family die at the hands of other Muslims shouting out “Allahu akbar” – a tragically common occurrence these days – there is nothing that can keep us from the promise of Allah. If someone is prevented by their oppressors even from the simple joy of drinking water, know that the Divine banquet on the other side of the veil has neither limit nor end. If a cruel and callous world cannot find the money to keep millions from starving to death while the overlords of Makkah and Madinah spend billions on weapons, then surely the God of Justice will provide whatever food and drink people longed for that they were denied in this world by the injustice of humanity.

These signs are essential, but they are no guarantee. The road ahead may be long, so we must continue to strive as best we can. But we hope and pray on this blessed 27th night of Ramadan that we can join Imam Husayn by Allah’s Mercy. That even though there are times when we don’t feel strong enough to be like Hurr, a wind of Divine mercy will blow at our backs and carry us, despite our weakness, to the joyful triumph. For then fear and sadness will be no more, and we can be those who look back and say: “We used to pray to Him: He is the Good, the Merciful One.”

ala-ina-awliya-Allah

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