Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alchemical Hermeneutics of al-Fatiha

In looking at different approaches to a depth interpretation of our sacred verses, one psychological method seems very appropriate to such an undertaking, with soul in mind. It is one which evokes the image of 9/11 which itself informs one of the motivations of this inquiry towards a Psychology of Islam. Until there is some understanding and appreciation for the Muslim psyche by a power-driven Other, the planet will still continue to be at risk of mutual self-annihilation:

"Alchemical hermeneutics ( as a path of re-turning in a healing act of loving re-membrance) is practiced by one whose consciousness has become attuned to a mythopoetic way of knowing the world and being in it, a way of knowing and being that is attuned to the guise of the wholly, holy other in its dis-guises, since Hermes, we should not forget, is a trickster, a master of dis-guises. He is also a thief and a liar, and this means that the researcher must always take into account the shadows that darken the light of interpretation, the complexes that linger in the transference field between the researcher and the topic. Alchemical hermeneutics is a way of remaining present to the fact that the wholly and holy other is present in the complexes that haunt our concepts, as well as in the myths that haunt our meanings, in the dreams that haunt our reasons, in the symptoms that haunt our symbols, in the fantasies that haunt our facts, in the fictions that haunt our ideas, and in the images, like those of 9/11, that dwell in events."

~ excerpted from "The Wounded Researcher - Research with Soul in Mind" by Robert D. Romanyshyn, p. 226

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Psychoanalysis, Siratal Mustaqim and the religious moment

In reflecting upon the supposed absence of the feminine archetypes invoked when we refer to Siratal Mustaqim as "the path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors," the Prophets, the Imams and all the luminaries sent forth by the Divine, in our daily recitations, it is worth considering a psychoanalytical perspective offered by James Hillman. This perspective calls us to re-examine the spiritual and archetypal claim of the feminine in Islam:

"Wherever we shift God's position, whether He be the God within, or the God absolutely outside and above, or the God below as the ground of being, or the God among wherever two or three are gathered, or whether we are all in God and can never despite our frenzied exercises be lost to Him - wherever we would assign Him His place, the religious moment is an experience and that experience takes place in the psyche. Our task is perhaps less to search for and locate God, and more to prepare the ground so that He may descend from the heights as the dove plummets, or arise from the depths, or be revealed through personal love.

The ground is prepared by insearch, by courageously reclaiming the lost areas of the soul, where it has fallen into disuse and disease. It is further prepared by separating the strands of the shadow and containing in consciousness the tensions of moral perplexities, so that our actions are less like actings-out and more like acts. The personality that cannot contain itself, that falls into bits should the ego be abandoned, that has no other light but that held together by the will, is hardly the ground for a religious moment. Even if God be love, that love can shatter us if our wounds from early human loves are fragilely stitched together. Can the personality that has not taken into account in one way or another the unconscious, the shadow and the anima, be a vessel to hold a divine force? Does it not succumb too readily to the demonic inhumanity of the collective outer world or the collective unconscious?

The religious moment as described in traditional accounts is a vivid intense realization, transcending ego and revealing truth. Just this is also at what analysis aims. The truth which can be experienced there goes beyond the causal truth of oneself: the banalities of how I got this way and who is to blame and what must I do now. Analysis moves toward the larger truth of coherence, toward intimations of immortality, how my person fits into the larger scheme of fate. These revelations, by opening one door to my emotional center, illumine one corner of the darkness. This truth is also love since it gives the sense of belonging and attachment to one's own ground.

If the main shadow of counseling is love and if counseling lies in its shadow, then our work will depend on love's "perfection." Love, as agape, means "to receive," "to welcome," "to embrace." Perhaps the perfection of love begins through faith in and work on the feminine within us, man or woman, since the feminine ground is the embracing container, receiving, holding, and carrying. It gives birth and nourishes and it encourages us to believe. This ground welcomes us home to ourselves just as we are. I do not know how better or how else we can prepare for the religious moment than by cultivating, giving inner culture to, our own unconscious femininity. For the religious moment to touch us at least the ground can be worked and opened, within the range of our individual human limits."

~ excerpt from "INSEARCH: Psychology and Religion", by James Hillman, Zurich and Moscia 1965/66

Friday, November 23, 2007

Psychology and Religion

James Hillman's book entitled "Insearch: Psychology and Religion" is written with the pastoral counselor in mind. In contemplating The Day of Reckoning, and the proposition of a Psychology of Islam within which we might place a psychology of Ultimate Concern, the following reflections by Hillman, a pre-eminent archetypal psychologist, are illuminating:

"Religious concern differs from theological or dogmatic concern for that would be to take up experiences into the already established positions of mental life or outer life, to put them to use and service, to place the soul in the yoke of profession. Rather the religious concern of the psyche comes in the form of spontaneous symbols that have similar representations in religion, such as the cross of opposites, the child in danger, the garden, the mountain, the gate and the guardian, the place of water, the wind, the desert, the grove of sacred trees - images that appear in dreams frequently. Or it arises from the religious motifs such as the importance of love, the battle with evil, the slaying of the dragon, the miraculous turn or cure. And the religious concern comes also in the form of intimations of immortality, eternity, metempsychosis, and questions of death, after-life, and judgment of this soul, what is right for it, where it is, where it will go next. In other words, the religious concern is a spontaneous manifestation of us each when the soul is refound.

The dogma and theology, too, take on new meaning. For on the one hand, the soul's questions and images are able to be fed by the background of traditional religion. And on the other hand, a sense of reawakened experience brings a freshness to the tradition and gives new meanings to it as the continuation of religion that is continually revealing itself. In other words, revelation stops whenever soul is lost and can no longer give experience and meaning to the basic myths, symbols, forms and proofs. For psychology, soul comes first - then religion. Yet also for psychology soul does not reach its fullness without realizing its religious concern.

Perhaps we cannot put either psychology or religion "first." The symbolic attitude of psychology arising from the experience of soul leads to a sense of the hidden numinous presence of the divine, while the belief in God leads to a symbolic view of life where the world is filled with significance and "signs." It is as if soul makes no choice between psychology and religion when they naturally lead into each other."

~ excerpted from "INSEARCH: Psychology and Religion," pp. 64-65

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Al-Hamd and the Psychology of Gratitude

Here is a message recently shared by the President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences with its membership that gives us pause to appreciate the essence of Alhamdulillah in al-Hamd.

Dear Members of IONS,
Your body loves gratitude! Not a superficial "oh gee, thanks" but a deep, heart-connected appreciation that carries love and acceptance from a place of higher consciousness and well-being.

Your body loves it because it washes away the biochemistry of stress and insufficiency and replaces it with the alchemy of flow and emotional warmth. The resonance from gratefulness warms both the giver and receiver; it generates a field of appreciation sometimes referred to as limbic resonance. In the field of appreciation, we create a healing and reviving antidote to psycho-toxins such as "I don’t have time," "I don’t have enough," or "I am drained."
Each trickle of gratitude blesses us with its affirmation that we have all we need in consciousness itself to gather our strength and honor life. Each stream of gratitude clears out the corrosive toxins of stress and anxiety in your body and becomes a gift to yourself and to others.

Now visualize great rivers of gratitude coming together as we turn collectively to face the hour in which we live. "With all of its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world," wrote Max Ehrmann. Even in the face of war, violence, and severe climate imbalance, Christopher Fry declared, "Thank God that our time is now, when wrong comes up to meet us everywhere." We can be grateful that we are here in this time of earth challenges with an unquenchable sense of hope and with a steadfast belief in our human capacity to heal, to renew and even to go beyond what seemed our most persistent limitations.

So I say let the gratitude flow. We are ready for the challenges that exist now and that lie ahead. Let these great rivers of our deepest intention flow towards a polarized and distracted world and cleanse it with the power of love. We come from all races, all creeds, all socio-political backgrounds with one unifying feeling of gratitude for life, for consciousness, and for a new evolutionary path forward. We come with gratitude for every being that came before us. We have been given an epic moment in the journey of life on earth to bring our greatest scientific knowledge together with our deepest spiritual insight to change the course of history. If you ever thought you were insignificant, consider how you are now needed in this great shift. And be grateful that you were given such a role and such a time to live in.

Thank you, thank you for what each one of you does to step up and to raise the consciousness of the citizens of this world. Thank you for feeding these great rivers, even in the face of wounding and denial. Thank you for being you.

In gratitude,
James O'Dea,
Institute of Noetic Sciences
P.S. We'd welcome you sharing your own messages of gratitude this season on Shift in Action

If you have a particular potent story of gratitude, you can also share with for possible inclusion in iShift.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poetic Consciousness of al-Hamd

In researching the Aesthetic philosophy of al-Hamd, I came across an essay by Sir Herbert Read, which has implications for the poetic consciousness raised by our seven sacred verses, gifted to us by the Divine Poet and uttered by us every day of our life:

"The poet speaks the essential word, says Heidegger. This implies that poetry is not the use of a ready-made language. It is that particular kind of speech, as Heidegger says (still interpreting Holderlin) which 'for the first time brings into the open all that which we then discuss and deal with in an everyday language. Hence poetry never takes language as a raw material ready to hand; rather it is poetry which first makes language possible. Poetry is the primitive language of a historical people'.

Such a theory of the primacy of poetic language had already, before Holderlin's time, been advanced by an obscure Italian philosopher whose revolutionary ideas have only in our time been given their full effect by the advocacy of Benedetto Croce - I mean, of course, Giambattista Vico. Vico, in his 'New Science', Scienza Nuova, boldly asserted, in opposition to the old science, that is, in opposition to the whole intellectual tradition of western philosophy, that 'in the histories of all nations, poetry appears as the first and primary mode of expression, as the vehicle of their first articulate life and expresses, not the peripheral, the pleasurable, or even the commodious dimensions of life, but the most intimate, stern and fundamental necessities of the life of the people, that is, their laws, their wisdom, their religious rites, their sacred formulas of birth, marriage and death, of initiation, of war and peace, and their rude speculations on the cosmos'. Poetry thus becomes, not a faculty developed by already cultured peoples for their delectation, or for the effective expression of ideas already rationally formulated (Horace's 'Aut prodesse aut delectare poetas'), but the primary act of apprehension and formulation, 'the expression of the pre-reflective or spontaneous consciousness of man'. Further, and here Vico anticipates Conrad Fiedler's theory of the plastic arts, there is no real distinction between this primary poetic expression and the first consciousness of some new aspect of reality: 'expression is the state of consciousness in its concrete actuality'.

When this poetic consciousness develops a form, a structure (but still not a reflective form), when it becomes what Holderlin called 'the most innocent of all occupations' and what Heidegger calls simply 'conversation', then we get, according to Vico, the myth. Poetry is no longer merely linguistic, but has become a myth-making activity, and once the myth is established, the consequential spiritual activities of man may develop: unification, integration, reflection, intellection. But, Vico asserts in one of his basic axioms, 'men at first feel without observing, then they observe with a troubled and agitated spirit. Finally they reflect with a clear mind'. And this axiom, he says, ' is the principle of the poetic sentences, which are formed with senses of passions and affections, in contrast with philosophic sentences, which are formed by reflection and reasoning'.

In the first stages of this development - the development from spontaneous expression to conversation, from the concrete actuality of a moment of consciousness (and of expression) to the formal articulation of a myth or an idea, between mere consciousness and passionate advertence, we have passed from what I will call the intensive aspects of poetry to the extensive aspects of poetry. We now distinguish these aspects thanks to our powers of reflection, and on the basis of the poetic material that has accumulated in historical times. In other words, the distinction we make is artificial, as is the whole academic science of poetry, poetics in the Aritotelian sense. It is our failure to preserve a sense of poetry as a primordial activity of consciousness, distinct from poetic thinking or myth-making, that has so often led to misunderstanding of the nature and function of poetry today, especially among psychologists.

The intensive aspects of poetry are due to the particular character of the words used in the spontaneous act of naming or advertence, and to the syntactical structure, or wholeness or unity which these words assume as they are uttered. The extensive aspects are due to the images, fantasies and reflections which these words convey, first to the poet in the act of advertence, then to the poet's audience, at the moment of understanding.

What we still debate, and the only excuse for reopening the subject now, is the degree to which these two aspects of poetry depend upon one another. To what extent is the degree of consciousness achieved in poetic utterance dependent on its verbal structure? Can the awareness conveyed by a poem be conveyed by any other verbal means - that is to say, by prose? Is the distinction between poetry and prose intensive only (that is to say,a question of verbal efficacy; or is it also extensive (that is to say, a distinct mode of discourse)? Poetry, it is easy to agree, is a spontaneous mode of expression: it is also at the moment of utterance a heightened state of consciousness. How shall we define such a state of specifically poetic consciousness; and what reality does such a state of consciousness reveal that is not accessible to mental acts of reflection?

~ excerpts from "The Forms of Things Unknown" by Sir Herbert Read, pp. 110-112

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Magnficience of Surah 1:1

Bismillah ir rahman ir rahim

The Arabic phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is a beautifully poetic expression which offers both insight and inspiration. It has often been said that the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim contains the true essence of the entire Qur'an, as well as the true essence of all religions.
Muslims often say the phrase when embarking on any significant endeavor, and the phrase is considered by some to be a major pillar of Islam. This expression is so magnificent and so concise that all but one chapter of the Qur'an begins with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.
The common translation:
"In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate".
fails to capture either the true depth of meaning or the inspirational message of this beautiful phrase. So, let's look deeper into the meaning of these wonderful words.
Origin and Spelling:
Every chapter of the Qur'an (except the ninth chapter) begins with the Arabic phrase:

However, there are many differing views on how this phrase should be transliterated using the English alphabet, as well as differing views on whether or not to include some of the Arabic rules of grammar. Consequently, one may encounter a variety of different transliterations of this glorious phrase on the internet, including: bismillahi al r-rahmani al r-rahim bismillahi al rahman al rahim bismillah al rahman al rahim bismi Allah al rahman al rahim bismillahi-r rahmani-r rahim bismillaah ir rahmaan ir raheem bismillah ir rahman ir rahim
However, regardless of how one may choose write the English transliteration of the original Arabic, at the end of the day, it is neither the writing of the words nor their pronunciation which is crucial, but rather we shall each be rewarded according to what is in our heart and how we act in the world.

Those who say these words with thoughts of self-aggrandizement, or selfish gains, or self-centered vain profit in any manner, will receive their just reward... suffering, pain and confusion. Likewise, those who truly dedicate every step of their life to the glory and service of the Ever-present One shall also receive their just reward... peace, love and beauty.
This phrase is truly an ideal to be expressed from the heart, an ideal to be expressed with the utmost sincerity, an ideal which leads us toward sacred purpose, the purpose for which we have been given life.

Let's look at the deeper meaning of each word of this glorious phrase:


The common translation for bismillah is "In the name of Allah", which is actually an idiom, an expression that really doesn't make much sense on a literal word-by-word basis.
The phrase In the name of is an idiom having the connotation of with the blessings of, under the guidance of, as an instrument of, with the support of, or for the glory of. In each of these cases, the idiom In the name of means submitting to, honoring or glorifying that which is referred to.

Now, let's take a deeper look into the Arabic roots of this magnificent word bismillah.
The term bismillah, is a combination of three words:
1. The particle bi which can mean by, for, with the aid of, through or by means of and points toward that which happens next.
2. The next word in this phrase is ism, based on the root variously reported to be s-m-w or a-s-m, which indicates the means by which something is distinguished, whether by use of an identifying mark, or by being raised up high so that it may be distinguished, and would include a name, reputation, light or vibration, and points toward the very essence of something, the inherent qualities and signs of the existence of something, the underlying reality of something.
3. The ending of the term is the word Allah, which is the Arabic name of the One. The Semitic roots of the word Allah extend back several thousand years to the Canaanite Elat, Hebrew El and Elohim, and Aramaic Alaha. These roots point toward unity, oneness, the eternal power which includes all of existence and of non-existence. In modern English this would generally be translated as God (which is old English, likely based on the Sanskrit word hu, meaning that which is worshipped, honored or adored).

Using these basic roots, the term bismillah might be literally translated as:
- By means of the very essence of God
- For the glory of our Creator
- With the light of the One
- With the guidance of The Divine
- As an instrument of the One

The central idea here is that whatever we do, every step that we take, every breath that we breathe, is done for, because of, and through the essence of, the One who has created us.
It is not us that does the work, it is not us that makes opportunities appear, it is not us that produces fruits from every action. We alone are powerless. The Creator has given us life and given us the ability to move and think and feel. We are totally dependent upon the Creator for the very essence of life itself.

Thus, this beautiful word bismillah is a magnificent reminder of our relationship to our Creator and our relationship to all of creation.

In one simple word bismillah expresses our wonder, awe and thankfulness while it also expresses our innermost prayer that we may have the blessing of another breath and that we may walk on a path of truth and understanding.

To say bismillah is to humbly offer one's self as a vehicle for the glory and majesty of The One.
ir rahman ir rahim

These two terms rahman and rahim refer to attributes of the One. While they are often translated simply as Merciful and Compassionate, the roots of the words point to a deeper meaning.

Both rahman and rahim are derived from the Semitic root r-h-m which indicates something of the utmost tenderness which provides protection and nourishment, and that from which all of creation is brought into being. And indeed, the root rhm has meanings of womb, kinship, relationship, loving-kindness, mercy, compassion, and nourishing-tenderness.

Thus, both rahman and rahim point toward that which emerges from the source of all creation, while also conveying a sense of tenderness, loving-kindness, protection and nourishment.
The term rahman is a very emphatic statement, and then the sentiment is echoed by being immediately followed by the use of another form of the same root-word. Such repetition is a joyful celebration of this Divine attribute, much the same as saying "The One who is the Supreme Loving-Kindness, oh such Loving-Kindness".

These two words, rahman and rahim, also express slightly different variations of meaning, as described in the following paragraphs.

The term rahman describes that aspect of the source of all creation which is endlessly radiating, endlessly nourishing, regardless of who or what is receiving the endless flow of blessings.
Rahmân conveys the idea of fullness and extensiveness, indicating the great quality of love and mercy which engulfs all of creation without regard to any effort or request on our part.
According to Ibn Qayyum (1350 AD), rahmân describes the quality of abounding Grace which is inherent in and inseparable from the Almighty.


On the other hand, the term rahim describes that aspect of the source which is issued forth only in response to the actions and behavior of the recipient. It is in this manner that God takes ten steps toward us when we take even a single step toward God.

Rahîm conveys the idea of constant renewal and giving liberal reward in response to the quality of our deeds and thoughts.

According to Ibn Qayyum (1350 AD), rahîm expresses the continuous manifestation of the Grace in our lives and its effect upon us as a result of our own activities.
ir rahman ir rahim:

Rahman points toward the Beneficent One whose endless outpouring of love and mercy are continually showered upon all of creation, while Rahim points toward the Merciful One whose love and mercy are manifested in that which is received as the consequence of one's deeds.
So, the phrase ir rahman ir rahim is a recognition and honoring of the very source of all existence, the source of all blessings, the source of all compassion, the source of all mercy who gives endlessly to us and who also responds according to our moral integrity, our harmony with all of creation and our love of Allah.

Poetic Renderings:

There is no way for any one translation to capture the many facets of this beautiful phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim. Here are some poetic renderings that attempt to capture some aspects of the meaning without being literal translations:

With every breath that we breathe, may we be ever aware of the Divine Presence, the Source of all that we receive.

With every step that we take, may we always honor the Light which guides us, the Source and Nourisher of all of creation.

Every moment of this life is filled with your eternal radiance my Beloved, You are the
Beneficent One who endlessly showers all of creation with nourishment and blessings, and the One who generously rewards those who live in harmony with Your Divine Will.


The words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim are so magnificent, so inspiring, so joyous that they have long attracted the hand of calligraphers who have used pen and ink to bring this phrase to life. The samples of calligraphy on this page are all renderings of the magnificent words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.


The magnificence of the meaning of these words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim brings out music from somewhere deep in my soul, celebrating the majesty and glory of the One.... and you can find some of these songs, on my music page.

with love, wahiduddin