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Written for the 2nd Annual ICNYU Grand Mawlid

***

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

اللهم صل على محمد وآل محمد

السلام عليك يا رسول الله

my dear beloved Prophet

ّI was asked to write something for your birthday

how can a man like me speak about a man like you

the day you were born the heavens rejoiced

‘here is the greatest of creation

the culmination of all prophetic realities

after whom there will be no other’

whereas the day our mothers bore us

was just a day amidst other days

 

it is my honor to speak to you

to address you as our Prophet

may blessings and peace be upon you and your family

even though we have never seen you

for the last time we gathered here

one of your servants spoke of love

a love that comes spontaneously

because of the perfection of the beloved

and for a moment

he asked us to imagine that you walked into the room

 

my Lord!

 

all my life would not be equal

to the first moment my eyes were graced with beholding you

 

yā Rasūl Allāh

yā Ḥabīb Allāh

yā Muḥammad al-Muṣṭafā

 

I pray that blessings be showered upon you and your family

to the number of all things that Allah has created

from the first moment that time began throughout all contingent eternity

in every moment that you are denigrated by those who do not believe in you

and every moment you are disrespected by those who are not humble before you

and every moment you are forgotten by those who obey you

and in every moment of reverence filling the hearts of those who love you

 

our Prophet

pray for our forgiveness!

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ جَاءُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا اللَّهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُوا اللَّهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا

We did not send any apostle but to be obeyed by Allah’s leave. Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you and pleaded to Allah for forgiveness, and the Apostle had pleaded for forgiveness for them, they would have surely found Allah all-clement, all-merciful.

we are all in need of forgiveness

every single one of us!

and sin is nothing other than falling short of your perfection

as a worshipper of God

and a servant to God’s creation

and so who better to lift us up towards a higher state

than you

 

from sin to obedience

from obedience to cautiousness

from cautiousness to detachment

from detachment to never forgetting our Lord

 

steps and stairs and stations

pathways of ascent

to drops from oceans

gathered in you

 

your perfection is not increased by our obedience

it was there before we were born

and will remain after we are buried in the ground

so come to us

in our graves

if the darkness of our hearts should make us fear there

then by the light of your presence give us hope

for every prayer we make in New York City

every fast we undertake during 2017

every American dollar we give as zakat, khums, and sadaqa

every turning away from something haram

every attempt to understand and act upon ethical ideals

every whispered prayer of longing hope to our Creator

is nothing but us collectively expressing

that we want to be like you

 

and so we gather to remember you

to talk to you

to speak about you

and to imagine what it would be like

if you walked in the door

and the tears began to pour

and our hearts burst inside our chests

as we became lost in a love

greater than what we feel for our parents

our spouses

our children

and even our own selves

اللهم صل على محمد وآل محمد

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The following du’a from al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiya has become one of the defining texts of my faith over the last year. It expresses better than anything else I know a fundamental spiritual truth that helps us to understand the world and the God Who created it. Essentially, it is about the limits of thankfulness (shukr). On a day when Americans are supposed to be in a state of thanksgiving, I thought it would be beneficial to share it.

 

The English translation by Dr. William Chittick is as follows:

O God, 
no one reaches a limit in thanking Thee 
without acquiring that of Thy beneficence 
which enjoins upon him thanksgiving, 

nor does anyone reach a degree in obeying Thee, 
even if he strives, 
without falling short of what Thou deservest 
because of Thy bounty. 

The most thankful of Thy servants 
has not the capacity to thank Thee, 
and the most worshipful of them 
falls short of obeying Thee. 

To none of them is due 
Thy forgiveness through what he himself describes 
or Thy good pleasure for his own merit. 

When Thou forgivest someone,
it is through Thy graciousness, 
and when Thou art pleased with someone, 
it is through Thy bounty. 

Thou showest gratitude 
for the paltry for which Thou showest gratitude 
and Thou rewardest 
the small act in which Thou art obeyed, 
so that it looks as if Thy servants’ thanksgiving 
for which Thou hast made their pledge their reward 
and made great their repayment 
is an affair from which they could have held back without Thee, 
and since Thou wilt recompense them, 
and who cause is not in Thy hand, 
and then Thou wilt repay them.

Nay, my God, Thou hadst power over their affair 
before they had power to worship Thee, 
and Thou hadst prepared their reward 
before they began to obey Thee; 
and that because Thy wont is bestowal of bounty, 
Thy custom beneficence, 
Thy way pardon. 

So all creatures confess 
that Thou wrong not him whom Thou punishest 
and bear witness 
that Thou bestowest bounty upon him whom Thou pardonest. 
Each admits that he has fallen short of what Thou meritest. 

Had Satan not misled them from Thy obedience, 
no disobeyer would have disobeyed Thee,
and had he not shown falsehood to them in the likeness of truth 
no strayer would have gone astray from Thy path. 

So glory be to Thee! 
How manifest is Thy generosity 
in dealing with him who obeys or disobeys Thee! 
Thou showest gratitude to the obedient 
for that which Thou undertakest for him, 
and Thou grantest a reply to the disobedient 
in that within which Thou art able to hurry him. 

Thou givest to each of them 
that which is not his due, 
and Thou bestowest bounty upon each 
in that wherein his works fall short. 

Wert Thou to counterbalance for the obedient servant
that which Thou Thyself hadst undertaken, 
he would be on the point of losing Thy reward 
and seeing the end of Thy favor, 
but through Thy generosity Thou hast repaid him 
for a short, perishing term 
with a long, everlasting term, 
and for a near, vanishing limit 
with an extended, abiding limit. 

Then Thou dost not visit him with a settling of accounts 
for Thy provision through which he gained strength to obey Thee, 
nor dost Thou force him to make reckonings 
for the organs he employed 
to find the means to Thy forgiveness. 
Wert Thou to do that to him,
it would take away 
everything for which he had worked 
and all where he had exerted himself 
as repayment for the smallest of Thy benefits 
and kindnesses, 
and he would remain a bride before Thee 
for Thy other favors. 
So how can he deserve something of Thy reward? 
Indeed, how? 

This, my God, is the state of him who obeys Thee 
and the path of him who worships Thee. 
But as for him who disobeys Thy command 
and goes against Thy prohibition, 
Thou dost not hurry him to Thy vengeance, 
so that he may seek to replace 
his state in disobeying Thee
with the state of turning back to obey Thee, 
although he deserved from the time he set out to disobey Thee 
every punishment which Thou hast prepared 
for all Thy creatures. 

Through each chastisement 
which Thou hast kept back from him 
and each penalty of Thy vengeance and Thy punishment 
which Thou hast delayed from him, 
Thou hast avoided from Thy right 
and shown good pleasure 
in place of what Thou hast made obligatory. 

So who is more generous, my God, than Thou? 
And who is more wretched than he who perishes 
in spite of Thee? 
Indeed, who?
Thou art too blessed to be described 
by any but beneficence 
and too generous for any but justice 
to be feared from Thee! 
There is no dread that Thou wilt be unjust 
toward him who disobeys Thee, 
nor any fear of Thy neglecting to reward 
him who satisfies Thee. 

So bless Muhammad and his household , 
give me my hope, 
and increase me in that of Thy guidance 
through which I may be successful in my works! 
Surely Thou art All-kind, Generous.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

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I am afraid to write these words. Words mean very little. Realities are what matter. I know I can write the words, but can I live the reality?

According to the world population clock, there are currently over 7.5 billion human souls in bodies on Earth. That number increases every day. The world population is divided up amongst the 193 member nations of the UN. Almost 1.4 billions souls in the People’s Republic of China. A little over 323 million in my own country, the United States of America.

And yet, there are approximately 10,000,000 who are not given a home within this system.

I would not have faced this reality without the current media coverage about the genocide of the Rohingya. Where are hundreds of thousands of people going to go after being gang raped, watching their family members shot before their eyes, and losing everything as the Burmese military burns entire villages to the ground? The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, The Kingdom of Thailand, and The Federation of Malaysia – three nearby nations with significant Rohingya refugee populations – have not offered to make them citizens. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have not offered them asylum, even as they vie to be “leaders” of the Muslim world.

Alhamdulillah, for all of my country’s flaws, over 5000 have been welcomed here. They have even established a small community organization in Chicago, my hometown, where they are mobilizing on behalf of those abroad. Insha’Allah, more of them will come in the years ahead. It is my duty to be of service to them in whatever way I can. Those who have made it here are best poised to help their friends and relatives, whom they will never forget for the rest of their lives, long after the world forgets them. I cannot change the world, but I can intend to change my self for the sake of Allah by committing to assist them.

It is reported in Sunni hadith collections that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him and his family, said:

ازْهَدْ فِي الدُّنْيَا يُحِبَّك اللهُ، وَازْهَدْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ النَّاسِ يُحِبَّك النَّاسُ

Be unattached to the world and Allah will love you. Be unattached to what other people have, and people will love you.

And it is reported in Shi’i sources something similar:

إِرْغَبْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ اللٌّهِ يُحِبُّكَ اللٌّهُ، وَ ازْهَدْ مَا فِي أَيْدِي النَّاسِ يُحِبُّكَ النَّاسُ

Actively seek that which is in the presence of Allah so that Allah will love you; keep away from that which is in the hands of the people so that the people will have love for you.

The word that is translated as “being unattached” or “keeping away from” is zuhd (زهد). Now is the time when zuhd must become central to our lives. To give up our need for this world and what other people have, because there are so many who literally have nothing but memories of their loved ones’ brutal deaths. This world is already a dystopia, and the only way we make it livable is to be people of zuhd. The vast majority of Rohingya have nowhere to go simply because no one is willing to take them in and share with them what they have. The Qur’an speaks directly of this spiritual challenge in Surah al-Balad:

فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْعَقَبَةُ

فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ

أَوْ إِطْعَامٌ فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ

يَتِيمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ

أَوْ مِسْكِينًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ

Yet he has not embarked upon the uphill task. And what will show you what is the uphill task? [It is] the freeing of a slave, or feeding [the needy] on a day of starvation, or an orphan among relatives, or a needy man in desolation,

If it is a “day of starvation,” most likely you are hungry too. It is not easy to share what you have in such a situation. But that is what we must do. It is not a false ideal – it is a Qur’anic description of the righteous.

I have met no scholar nor activist nor mystic yet who is more worthy of the decent life they are already living than the Rohingya that are mentioned in the news stories. This includes myself – God may ask me at any moment about the luxury that I drown in every day. The only way forward is to do something – to recognize that whoever you are, God may ask you about the Rohingya and what you did once you knew. As Imam Khalid Latif said the other night at NYU after returning from Bangladesh, “The world is killing these people. We are killing these people.” I know Khalid personally, and I know that he traveled halfway across the world to raise money for relief aid because it deeply pains him that this tragedy can happen. Ali Yusufali from the Orlando area has been there multiple times, and his organization Comfort Aid International is taking responsibility for 100 orphans for the next two years in addition to providing emergency aid. I learned that an old friend, Dr. Imran Akbar, has already been working with the Rohingya in Chicago, and even traveled to Bangladesh to set up a medical clinic and connect with some of the relatives there of those who have made it to Chicago.

This is the inspiration we all need – to know that serving other people that you never knew before on the other side of the world is not only possible, but something we must do. To use one’s privileges in the service of others, as opposed to the service of one’s self. To give up our worries about what my job will be, who my spouse will be, who my friends are, where will live, and every other manifestation of the ego that keeps us from reaching states and stations more like our spiritual exemplars, upon them peace. Could we imagine Musa, upon him peace, going on with his life while this is happening? Could we imagine ‘Isa, upon him peace, saying that it was acceptable to just give a few dollars and then go back to thinking that the world is okay?

Sure, we all want things. I want so much, I could live “a thousand lives” on this Earth before getting bored. I even dream about lives in space. But maybe in a world where a storefront community center is trying to stop the genocide of hundreds of thousands, we need to stop thinking about what we want and instead reorient our lives to think about what we can give. That is how we might attain something of zuhd, as an attempt at an adequate response to a world that abandons so many.

The Generous has granted us so much. The Earth is full of land and resources. But our short-sighted selfishness has turned it into a nightmare for millions.

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

Corruption has flourished on land and sea as a result of people’s actions and He will make them taste the consequences of some of their own actions so that they may turn back

Knowing what is happening is a catalyst for repentance. If it hurts you to look at the pictures and hear the stories of the Rohingya, then imagine how much harder it is to endure what is actually happening. Consider Rajuma. The journalist who interviewed her stated, “So I started thinking: If we don’t cover this, that’s even worse. That would be a further injustice, a further insult to the Rohingya’s humanity. It would be like telling Rajuma that the world couldn’t be bothered about what she suffered.” And this was how he described his encounter with her:

But as she reached the end of her horrible testimony, Rajuma broke down.

“I can’t explain how hard it hurts,” she said, tears rolling off her cheeks, “to no longer hear my son call me ma.”

She hunched over on a plastic stool in another family’s hut, covered her mouth with a red veil and started sobbing so hard she could barely breathe.

Every thing I have ever learned in my life about empathy, both personally and professionally as a chaplain, is being put to the test. Every word I have written on this blog is coming to the fore.  The sincerity of my search to be on the side of the Just and Merciful is on the line, and my standing before the Judge is right before my eyes. But the whole point is that it is not about me. It is about Rajuma. It is about Nasir. It is about the tens of thousands of Rohingya living in Karachi without official recognition. It is about all the unique souls with a name and story, most of which I will never know.

But I want to know. And I want to help. I am taking steps, and maybe these words are just a small step that will lead to something greater. Maybe I will be able to live these realities as opposed to just talking about them. So that maybe, just maybe, the Divine Justice that is in wait for allowing this corruption to flourish will spare me because I “turned back.” And perhaps, the Guide will connect me with those about whom these verses were revealed:

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا

إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا

إِنَّا نَخَافُ مِن رَّبِّنَا يَوْمًا عَبُوسًا قَمْطَرِيرًا

فَوَقَاهُمُ اللَّهُ شَرَّ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُورًا

They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner saying, ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks. Indeed we fear from our Lord a day, frowning and fateful.’ So Allah saved them from the ills of that day, and granted them freshness and joy.

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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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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

 

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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.

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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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