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Muhammad is only a messenger before whom many messengers have been and gone. If he died or was killed, would you revert to your old ways? If anyone did so, he would not harm God in the least. God will reward the grateful. (3.144)

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Dear Messenger of God

May the peace and blessings of God be upon you and your family

I am longing for you

In this night my heart sinks at the memory of how far away I am from you

It is not that I want to revert to my old ways

As there is so much for which to be grateful

But is it okay to simply say that I wish I could see you

I wish I could hear you

I wish I could walk beside you

For when my friend spoke of you

He spoke of the love that is both a means and an end

And every day I take the means that you called us to take

Like fasting

Like prayer

Like avoiding the forbidden

But there is a place in my heart whose end is simply your face

The face of the man who has changed my life more than any other

The face that God chose for you

And I yearn to see that face

for no other reason than my love for you

My Messenger

My Prophet

My Master

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“The provisions required for this spiritual journey consist of spiritual and ascetic practices to discipline the soul. Since relinquishing material attachments is very difficult, the traveler begins to cut the binding chains of attachment to the realm of multiplicity little by little and leaves the world of physical nature behind.

Hardly before the traveler recovers from the exhaustion of this journey, he enters the intermediate world, which is the world of psychic multiplicity. Here, he clearly realizes how precious are the treasures that material and external multiplicities have stored within his corporeal nature. These are the same imaginal psychic beings that come into being as a result of the traveler’s encounter with and interest in external multiplicities and are considered its outcome and by-products.

These thoughts and preoccupations hinder the travelers wayfaring and take away his serenity and peace of mind. When he wants to take repose in the remembrance of God for a short while, they besiege him like a deluge and threaten his whole being…

It is obvious that the pain and distress caused by psychic multiplicities are more powerful than multiplicities of the physical world. For one can willingly and deliberately retreat and isolate oneself and be saved from disturbance of and encounter with external multiplicities. But one certainly cannot free oneself from the disturbance of temptations and imaginations of the carnal soul, for those enticements always accompany one closely and intimately.

The traveler…is determined to leave behind the realm of temptations that is usually called the intermediate world. However, the traveler must be very alert and careful lest there remain any of those tempting thoughts in the corners of his heart. Because it is a characteristic of these imaginal elements to hide in the most obscured corners of the heart in such a way that the traveler is deceived when he wants to cast them out. He may be fooled to believe that he has freed himself of their evil presence and has been relieved of all remnants of the [the intermediate world]. But when the traveler reaches the spring of life and wants to quench his thirst from the fountains of wisdom, suddenly they attack him and finish him off…

The example of such a traveler is like that of a person who has filled a pool in his house with water but has not touched it for some time. Therefore, all the dirt and impurities of the water has settled down at the bottom of the pool and the water seems clean and clear to him. He assumes that the clarity and purity of the water is permanent. However, as soon as he wants to enter the pool or wishes to wash something in it, suddenly all that dirt and sediment contaminates the clear water again and spots of dirt reappear on the surface. Therefore, through persistent spiritual combat and ascetic practices the traveler must acquire such a degree of certitude and inward peace that imaginal psychic elements are subjugated and cannot disturb his mind when he turns attention to the Beloved Lord.

When the traveler passes through the realm of physical nature, and the intermediate world, he enter the world of spirit…”

‘Allamah Tabataba’i, Kernel of the Kernel, pp. 15-17

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Dear Layla

Dear Layla,

All I want is You.

I sat on the bumper of a car because my legs could not hold me anymore, and I cried tears of desperation. Heaving, shuddering, buckling under the weight of separation.

Then suppose, My God, my Master, my Protector and my Lord that I am able to endure Your chastisement, how can I endure separation from You?

You are so beautiful. So intoxicating. So perfect.

I want to spend forever with You.

And I cannot endure the pain of Your withdrawal.

Do not walk away from me.

Do not turn away from me.

Do not ever leave me to be in this world without You.

I cannot bear it, Layla.

I am just a man. A simple man. And You are You. Magnificent You.

I smell You in the evening wind.

I feel You against my skin.

I taste You in every joy.

And the yearning.

The yearning.

You are the One who started this.

I am only responding to Your smiles.

Your promise.

If I cannot trust that You will not break Your promise to this weak man than I have nothing.

Nothing.

So…

I will cry to You with the cry of those crying for help; I will weep to You with the weeping of the bereft; And I will call to You, ‘Where are You!’

looking up at Your apartment window

the soft glow of the light of Your home

so far from my grasp

while I am cold, wet, and shivering on the street below

heart burning

yearning with every desire I have ever had

for one moment in Your embrace

 

There is nowhere else to go

I will stand on this street until I pass out

and even then

I will hope that You will come pick up my motionless body

and bring me into Your home

because that is all I want

all I have ever wanted

expressed in a million ways

in moments remembered

forgotten

and yet to come

لا إله إلا الله

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The Qur’an states:

“But you prefer the life of this world, whereas the next life is better and more lasting.” (87.16-7)

I have always loved these two verses, because they do not negate the value of this life. This world too is created by Allah, and reflects God’s Beauty and Majesty. It is through this world that we come to know the Creator, Fashioner, and Sustainer of this world. This world is full of signs (ayat) which point to the existence of One through whom the world is. But this world is not all there is. There is another world that is even better than this world, and it is place where loss is not possible.

This is the power of the concept of the Last Day. It is a transition from a beautiful world filled with difficulty to a far more beautiful world without difficulty. And the path to get there is not a passive one. In fact, it demands vigorous activity and opposition to the selfishness which is the root cause of the suffering inherent in this world. In the same chapter of the Qur’an it states:

“Truly successful is the one who purifies [their self]” (Qur’an, 87.14)

This self purification (tazkiya) is a prerequisite for experiencing the beauty of the next world because it is those who are selfless who help us to understand how selfishness mires us in suffering. Hamza Yusuf writes in the introduction to his book “Purification of the Heart”:

If we examine the trials and tribulations all over the earth, we’ll find they are rooted in human hearts. Covetousness, the desire to aggress and exploit, the longing to pilfer natural resources, the inordinate love of wealth, and other maladies are manifestations of diseases found nowhere but in the heart. Every criminal, miser, abuser, scoffer, embezzler, and hateful person does what he or she does because of a diseased heart. So if you want to change our world, do not begin by rectifying the outward. Instead, change the condition of the inward. It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring…We of the modern world are reluctant to ask ourselves, when we look at the terrible things happening, “Why do they occur?” And if we ask that with sincerity, the answer will come back in no uncertain terms: all of this is from our own selves. In so many ways, we have brought this upon ourselves. This is the only empowering position that we can take.

The Qur’an states elsewhere:

“On the day when neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit – rather [will benefit] the one who brought to Allah a sound heart” (Qur’an, 26.88-9)

It is reported that the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) said, “blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see Allah.” The window of the heart is the window to the Hereafter, the Last Day, yawm al-qiyama, the afterlife. If the heart is sullied, one cannot see anything but the sweat, mud, and tears of this world. But when the heart is polished, it reflects the light of Allah and illuminates the true nature of this world.

When one of the Companions of the Prophet was asked by a ruler why he had come, he responded:

God sent us, and He brought us here in order to lead whom He wills from the worship of man to the worship of God alone; from the narrowness and oppression of this world to the space and abundance of the hereafter; and from the injustice of other religions to the justice of Islam. He has sent us with His religion of His creation, to call them to Him.

Our Lord has created that which no eye has ever seen, that which no ear has ever heard, and that which no human heart has ever imagined – but Allah has kept it back as a reward for those who take up the path of righteousness and piety.

“And no soul knows what has been hidden for them of the eye’s delight as a reward for what they used to do.” (32.17)

People sometimes wonder if they will get bored in Paradise (al-Jannah). But that is impossible, because Allah will always outstrip the human being’s ability to receive the blessings of Allah. Satiation of the self will continue for eternity, because Allah is always akbar – always greater. Allah is not just greater than this world – Allah is greater than the next as well.

We find ourselves in this life with questions and longings. As much as we fill ourselves with experiences, people, places, ideas – there is always the thought, “now what,” or “what else,” or “where do I go from here?” The answer is that this life is about opportunity cost – we only have so much time to do so many things, and so what will we choose to do? We don’t have time to waste, so we choose that which seems most valuable. When the belief in the Last Day takes hold in our heart, the world becomes vast but small at the same time. It is a huge place, but what is happening on the planet Jupiter, for example, is of no concern to me, because at the end of the day, Jupiter too must perish. Jupiter, despite its massiveness and complexities, is really not that amazing, because what concerns me is what my Lord has in store for me at death, which is far greater. The One who created Jupiter can create far greater. And so I live my life in search of the beauty and majesty and power and awe-inspiring wonder of creation, but I have no need to hold on to it, because is it is all perishing before my very eyes. Rather, I am interested in that which is better and more lasting.

When one looks at the teaching of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his family), one sees that he was a very practical man. His Companions usually asked him practical questions, but the few times that they asked him theoretical questions, he turned it back on them. “When will the Last Day come?” they asked. “What have you prepared for it?” was the immediate response. This is the wisdom of our Prophet: he came to teach us how to live in this world so that we might reach that which is better and more lasting. Time was of the essence, because at every moment, the clock is ticking down. Each breath takes us towards the only certain thing in life – our death.

“Worship your Lord until certainty comes to you!” (15.99)

Religion must answer the question of what happens after death, or else it will never satisfy the most basic need of human beings. Our Prophet (peace be upon him) told his family and friends that Allah would resurrect human beings after their deaths, to which many of them responded, “How can Allah bring us back when our bones have become dust?!” They had the same response that we have now – a sense of disbelief that such a thing is possible. But Allah said in no uncertain terms:

“Say [O Muhammad]: The One who created [the bones] in the first place will give them life again, for He is well-versed in all manners of creation.” (Qur’an, 36.79)

And that is our belief. That just as we live now, and just as our grandparents once lived, and just as our forefathers once lived – so shall we live again, by the awesome power of Allah.

My forefathers came to this continent from England in 1630. Many of them are buried in a cemetery in Watertown, Massachusetts. I once went to visit these distant ancestors, and on one of the graves was written the following poem:

No human skill can warm that clay

Which the cold blast of death has froze

But God shall raise the lifeless form

His animating power disclose.

This is our part of our creed (‘aqida), and it gives hope to the human heart that all of the struggle for the right, for the greater good – all of the sacrifice of selfish desire – has a purpose, and will be rewarded to an unfathomable degree through Allah’s mercy.

History is not an accident – it is all a purposeful journey towards the Last Day.

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there you are, moon

i see you with my own eyes

filling the dark with light

“and by the moon as it follows it” (91.2)

“by the moon when it becomes full” (84.18)

“and has made the moon a light therein” (71.16)

you are surely one of the great signs of God

and by you we determine two pillars of worship

My Lord!

I have made pilgrimage to Your House in Makkah.

“The first House [of worship] to be established for people was the one at Mecca. It is a blessed place; a source of guidance for all people” (3.96)

I had no authority here on Earth to determine the time of the Hajj. Others who control Makkah determine when the Hajj began, and so I went to fulfill my obligation and left aside that which I had no control over. But You placed the moon in the sky to determine its beginning!

“They ask you [Prophet] about crescent moons. Say, ‘They show the times appointed for people, and for the pilgrimage.’” (2.189)

Please accept from me my worship! I am ignorant and sinful, but You are the Most Merciful of those who show mercy! I tried my best to fulfill my obligation – please accept, my Lord!

And I fast during the month of Ramadan! And it is the moon that determined its beginning.

“…So those of you who witness the month must fast in it….” (2.185)

My Lord!

I am so sick of the words of human beings, even my own. I wish I did not have to write this. But I find no other vehicle to express myself other than these words. But it is not words that I want. It is what the words point to.

I want the moon.

How many conferences of human beings are filled with words about the moon?! How much contention and wrangling in human hearts is manifested in speech about that which You have created beautiful and pristine?!

“We gave them clear proof in matters [of religion]. They differed among themselves out of mutual rivalry, only after knowledge came to them: on the Day of Resurrection your Lord will judge between them regarding their differences.” (45.17)

My Lord!

No one controls the moon but You. Those with the most billions to spend cannot stop its phases. Someone who has published 200 books cannot make it rise in the horizons other than where You have decreed it to be.

I want the moon.

I want the sign in the heaven that speaks to me with the pure voice of Your Oneness. Far away from the prattle of nervous minds and bookish tendencies.

Yes, my Lord, the moon is not You. It is created.

“And when he saw the moon rising he said, ‘This is my Lord,’ but when it too set, he said, ‘If my Lord does not guide me, I shall be one of those who go astray.’” (6.77)

But it rises high above this world, where our folly has yet to touch, reminding us to fast for You in the month of Ramadan, and to travel to Makkah for You in the month of Dhu’l-Hijja.

I am a Muslim, my Lord, because I believe in You, and want the way back to You.

“This is a reminder. Let whoever wishes, take the way to his Lord.” (76.29)

I am searching for those things that are beyond doubt to lead me on that way, my Lord.

Muhammad looked to the same moon.

‘Ali looked to the same moon.

Husayn looked to the same moon.

And that gives comfort to my broken heart.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

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this night

i have this night

by Your grace

i have this night

let it not go to waste

i have this night

in it, my heart cries out to You

let me not be lost to this world

let me not give up hope

let me not begin to believe that the forest is not there

waiting

still waiting

i presume i will wake up tomorrow

another day, another responsibility

but tonight

let me dream

let me embrace the heart shattering notion

that You have no limit

no end that i can fathom

for i am part of what You have wrought

i am a drop in the shoreless sea

لا إله إلا الله

a sea that encompasses every name

of every human being

who has ever spoken of You

dear God

what Beauty I behold sometimes

in a word

in a glance

in a dream

in a hope

that my entire being shakes

quivers

loses control

and i want to rush to You

lose it all on love

risk everything

because whose promise can i trust more than Yours

my Lord

my body is trapped in this apartment tonight

but my soul flies to the edge of time and space

to the realm of ‘Ali and Fatima

may Your peace be upon them

beyond death and life

to Being itself

to Existence itself

to You

yes, it would be hard to live

if what i felt now was always there

and so Your grace will most likely veil it again

but tonight

let me show up at Your door

and cry out Your name

a lover gone mad

i will not leave until You let me in

and embrace me

and promise me that we will be together

forever

يا أرحم الراحمين

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i and you

share with me what you have seen

and i will share with you what i have seen

and together we will paint a beautiful corner

of a canvas with limitless borders

for we too are part of that canvas

our breaths

our faces

our experiences

Witnessed and witnessing

the infinite dance of Being

can you hear bilal’s cry?

“Ahad (One)!”

there is but One

One whom we worship

One in whom we exist

One who manifests that which shatters our little dreams

can you feel zaynab’s stance?

“ma ra’aytu illa jameela (i see nothing but Beauty)!”

all around us

ever present

hidden secrets

whispers of love

unveiled in a moment decreed

to mirror Heaven’s promise

“muttak’ina ‘alayha mutaqabilin (reclining upon couches, facing one another)”

for why would al-Dhahir

– the One manifest in everything –

want us to look at each other

in the highest places of bliss?

it is to this secret i dedicate my trust

for the sake of the One who created you

“ma khalaqta hadha batilan (You did not create this in vain)!”

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