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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 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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i hate my self

I don’t want to write this, but I think I should.

This blog goes back to 2008. In the last 9 years, I could have written this post probably a hundred times or more.

This is about failure, weakness, and the desire to give up.

I don’t have anything profound to say, just the admission that there are moments when I feel empty. I usually write about trying to change my self and the world at the same time. That is where I invest my time and money. But alongside that narrative are incongruous moments, times when I just want to stop everything and embrace my self and the world as we are, warts and all.

I have written about specific personal struggles, the overwhelmingness of earthly injustice, hope for liberation, imperfect foundations, being overwhelmed by darkness, and so much more. What I have never mentioned is flirting with the final abdication.

It is not the Eternal Sovereign who can abdicate. Only we can do that. It comes from listening to the whispers of the egotistical self (nafs):

Stop trying to change.

Be who you are.

God does not need you to be perfect.

God is the Most Forgiving.

Do something you love.

Be happy.

For the self only says these words in order to get what it wants, whether it be halal or haram. To feel free from the demands of submitting to commands and prohibitions it finds distasteful. To live life on its own terms.

Revelation does not address the self, but the intellect (‘aql).

لَقَدْ أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكُمْ كِتَابًا فِيهِ ذِكْرُكُمْ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

And now We have sent down to you [people] a Scripture to remind you. Will you not use your reason [ta’qilun]? (21.10)

The intellect comprehends ethical obligation (taklif) and responds accordingly. As the first hadith in al-Kafi states:

When God created intellect, he gave it the faculty of language and said, ‘Come forward,’ whereupon it came forward. Then he said to it, ‘Go back,’ whereupon it went back. Then he said, ‘By my might and my majesty, I have not created a creature more beloved to me than you, and I have not perfected you except in whom I love. Let it be known! You alone do I command, and you alone do I forbid. [According to you] alone do I punish, and [according] to you alone do I confer reward.” [trans. by Rizwan Arastu]

And so when the intellect is in control, one’s life is focused on obedience to God and the hope for eternal reward. One strives to attain servanthood (‘ubudiya) and submission (taslim).

But the self hates servanthood and submission. It hates it so so much. It hates it more than anything else. And so it rebels any way it can. And sometimes, the rebellion goes so well that the self rules for a time. It deploys time, health, wealth, and everything else at its command to get more of what it wants.

If the intellect does not regain its throne, disaster is inevitable. But it is not always easy to rouse its armies. Pleasure feels better than pain. Freedom is more enjoyable than enslavement. Experiencing something is usually more fun than sacrificing it. Peace is preferred to struggle. The possibilities of the material now are more intoxicating than promises for a metaphysical future. And so moments of discord and disunity emerge within our own being.

Right now, I am not going to tell you that my intellect has a plan to extinguish the rebellion. Rather, I am writing this at a moment when the intellect wants to give the self control of a province.

I am so tired of this seemingly endless war.

But I know the self, intimately. It is satisfied with nothing less than complete victory. It wants to live in a world where even God is a projection of its own desires. And so peace is impossible, even though at this moment I want more than anything to believe that God will forgive me even if I stop trying.

“Fight your self so that it obeys God, just as an enemy would fight an enemy. Overcome the self just as opponent would overcome an opponent. For surely the most powerful person is the one who has power over their self.” – Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام

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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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النظر إلى علي عبادة

“Looking at ‘Ali is worship.” (al-Mustadrak)

 

It is the night of the 19th of the month of Ramadan, a blessed night.

The shaykh had us collectively ask God for forgiveness, and my heart burned as I thought of how little I follow the example of Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, upon him peace. Afterward, I read my poem “The Eyes of Ali” to all those gathered. We heard stories of the generosity of the Commander of the Faithful. How he served a widow in need and showed compassion to her orphans. How he has been called “The Voice of Human Justice” even by those who are not Muslim. And how he walked the streets of Kufa in the hot sun looking for people to feed.

I was struck by that story, for it was said that he looked to the heavens and proclaimed, “God, bear witness that I did everything I could to make sure the people were fed.” He went out of his way to address the needs of others and make sure people received their rights. No wonder those who make light of injustice fear the constant mention of Abu al-Hasan.

I was reminded of this hadith of his great great grandson Imam al-Sadiq, upon him peace:

Allah, the Most Powerful and High, certainly made in the wealth of the rich an adequate share for the poor, and if it was not so He would certainly make their share greater. If they are needy, it is because some of the rich refuse to give them their share.

For earlier today, I was talking with a friend about her various health care needs. We talked about how hard it is when one loses physical and mental capacity while not having the financial resources to receive quality care. In the process I quoted the following hadith qudsi of the Prophet, upon him and his family blessings and peace:

Allah said, “If I deprive my slave of his two beloved things (i.e., his eyes) and he remains patient, I will let him enter Paradise in compensation for them.”

I said that I fear losing my eyesight, as I love my eyes very deeply. I know viscerally that there is nothing I can do to show true gratitude for the blessing of my eyes that I have enjoyed all my life. And yet, if Allah were to take my sight away from me, I know it would not be an injustice done to me, as much as it would be greater than any tribulation I have faced so far in my life.

Then, later in the night after the gathering for Imam ‘Ali was concluded, I saw another friend who is studying optometry. I recounted the story of my conversation during the day. She replied by saying something that shook me to the core. She said, “it is so heartbreaking to see the injustice though, of poor people who know they are going to go blind from glaucoma because they cannot afford the eye drops they need.” While she works in one of the richest cities on Earth, there are people that have to face preventable blindness. She said they give them as many free samples as possible, but after that do not know what to do.

When I left to walk to home, all of this rattled around in my head and heart, and I found myself hearing the voice of God within.

What are you going to do about it, David?

For there are so many times when we face a problem, and we don’t know what to do. We know we don’t have the time, or the money, or the skills. But in this instance, as hard as it may be, I know that it is not impossible. It is not impossible to ensure that nobody in the United States of America goes blind from glaucoma simply because they cannot afford eye drops. If the Commander of the Faithful can walk in the hot sun to make sure no one goes hungry, then the least I can do is try in some small way to follow in his footsteps. Insha’Allah.

Sometimes, the signs are just too many to ignore. I wrote this out to remind myself that a hujja (moral proof) has been established in my heart and I cannot turn away.

Please pray for me, that Allah accepts this intention, and grants me the facilitation (tawfiq) to achieve this goal, and grants ease and recovery to all those suffering from conditions that could be treated if we were people who truly gave their share.

imam_ali_2_by_islamic_shia_artists

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The Qur’an is about change. It is a testimony of the myriad changes that the prophetic community went through from 610-632. I have been thinking a lot recently about one line:

وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ

This is translated by Taqi Usmani as “Allah will not allow your faith go to waste.” This comes in the context of the change of qibla (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Makkah. God is letting the faithful know that their old ritual prayers facing north (from Madinah) are not invalidated, even though now they have to face south towards the Ka’ba for their prayers to count.

For we don’t only change from one religion to another, as I did. We also change within a single religion. Individuals who once promoted the exoteric delve into the esoteric. Communities that once adhered to one school of thought switch to another. Orthodoxies become heterodoxies and vice versa. In short, maybe you pray north for awhile, but then you realize you have to pray south from now on.

I myself have gone through numerous changes in the almost 18 years I have been a Muslim. Some have been very personal and intimate, others have been related to my sense of connection to the global Ummah. Some have been doctrinal and others have been practical. But along the way I have been guided by a feeling at the heart of my faith:

God is fair and understands I’m trying

If what I am doing now is different from what I was doing 10 years ago, that is okay because God was watching me then and God is still watching me today. I am not the same, nor is the world the same. If I change what I think, it is (hopefully) because I am trying to get closer to the Truth. In that regard, each day is a new adventure.

Many years ago I had a choice to make and didn’t know which one was the right one. But I knew that it wasn’t the choice that mattered; rather, it was the change I was hoping to bring forth in my life that was foremost in my mind. I looked for something to help me find clarity, and stumbled serendipitously across the following page:

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It said everything I wanted to say, and I have been saying it ever since.

This prayer is all about change. But why do we usually change? For material success? For a lover? For fun? As far as I can tell, the greatest changes of our lives are the ones we make on the road back home to God, and this prayer points the way. Change in our religious life is most central, but so is having a sound material life through which we can live religiously. Death ultimately is the greatest change, and each change we make while we are still alive is movement towards embracing that final end.

I highlight this prayer because we don’t just face life’s challenges by ourselves and for ourselves. We are not alone, so we do it with God in our corner. It is a shared process where we recognize the human condition and the necessity of choosing, but we simultaneously ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Only God can “make my life a source of increase in all good, and make my death a refuge from every evil.”

Ultimately, there is no guarantee we get it right most of the time, and we still live between hope and fear. But at the end of the day, the God to whom we are praying for help is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy (arham al-rahimin).

I don’t know anything else in this universe that I can rely upon more than that.

 

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