Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Monday, September 15, 2008

Siratal Mustaqim - A Jihad of Self-Refinement

Azmina Suleman's inspiring memoir about her NDE addresses the issue of the responsibility of every soul to pursue the process of self-refinement or as it is described in Eastern spiritual traditions: "Self-Cultivation". She urges us to consider working on what she calls "the emotional self," which might be interpreted as a psychoanalytic or Depth Psychological approach to a deeper Jihad of the Siratal Mustaqim, and one that she describes in her own journey of self-discovery:

"By bringing reason and intellect to bear upon our emotions, we theoretically have the ability to get past our emotions and regain control over our lives. But in reality it is not quite as straightforward as it seems, as I found myself asking the question, "What about those emotions that were already contaminating my system and preventing me from thinking rationally in the first place?"

I recognized that there was no easy way around that problem. The only way to penetrate the dense wall of my emotions was to honestly and openly acknowledge those fears and emotions, and then courageously facing up to those emotions. Therefore, in order to heal myself emotionally, I realized that I would first have to clear away the toxic emotions already clogging up my system. In other words, I would have to go through that painful process of opening up the festering wound of my emotions and allowing it to drain before I could rid myself of all the putrefying emotions in my life.

Thus, it struck me that the only way to heal my emotional wounds, was to systematically uncover the various layers of my emotion through the process called "catharsis." Through the conscious application of the three R's of catharsis - namely, "Revisiting," "Reliving" and then finally "Releasing" the negative memories associated with emotions - I could once again allow the light of truth and reason to enter my heart. I knew that once I stopped identifying myself with my ego or emotional self and realized that I was more than the sum total of my feelings and emotions, I had the very real ability to once again connect with that true and authentic part of myself just waiting to be discovered.

All the pent up emotion in our lives, I realized, acted like a "tarnish" upon the clear mirror of our souls that created a distinct fuzziness and distortion in our perception of reality. And I knew that only through the process of consciously recreating those emotions and looking them squarely in the eye, would we finally be able to desensitize and release ourselves from the gross distortions and errors in judgment associated with those emotions.

The often slow and painful process of getting in touch with our true feelings and laying our pasts to rest, however, requires that we be brutally honest with ourselves. Unless we are willing to confront the truth about ourselves - our fears, our negativity, and our own role in creating our problems - we cannot heal ourselves emotionally. It is a process that requires a critical self-examination of ourselves. We need to reflect upon both our inner motives as well as outward actions and subject ourselves to a thorough psychoanalysis - either privately, if we are capable of being totally honest with ourselves, or professionally if we are not."

~ Excerpted from "A Passage to Eternity" by Azmina Suleman (2004, pp. 80-81).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Blessed Virgin Mary - An Imaginal Hermeneutic

Azmina Suleman's NDE confirms in her memoir, "A Passage to Eternity" the argument made by a number of scholars of Islam that the Virgin Mary enjoys the status of Prophetess (See my post in December 2007 on Mary - Blessed Virgin of Islam). The implications for an imaginal hermeneutic of al-Fatiha and the question of gender in Islam are immense. Not only because the Virgin Mary is without question one of "those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors" but also because of the parity she enjoys in the celestial planes with the other prophets of Allah.

If Bibi Miriam can be embraced by all Muslims as equal in significance and stature as all the other 124,000 prophets of Islam, then surely one can de-link the particularly patriarchal interpretations of al-Fatiha that have gone before.

I will leave it to the seeker of Truth to also examine the significance of the relationship between Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali which is implied in Azmina Suleman's account of her celestial encounters:

"At the end of the long procession of individuals was the broad and stalwart figure of the Prophet Muhammad. Even though I have yet to see a picture or reasonable facsimile of the Prophet Muhammad, I seemed to intuitively recognize him. He had a mass of thick dark hair and an intensely penetrating quality to his eyes, something that was, in fact, confirmed by his cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, in a documented description of the Prophet.

What surprised me, however, was the fact that standing next to the Prophet Muhammad was the shining countenance of the Virgin Mary, or Bibi Miriam as she is commonly referred to in Islam. Looking at it logically, I would have expected to see the figure of Mother Mary beside her son, Jesus of Nazareth. But as I discovered many months later, the Virgin Mary is venerated in her own right by Muslims the world over. In fact, she merits a special place in the Qur'an, the Holy Book of the Muslims, universally acclaimed to be the word of God transmitted through the Prophet Muhammad.

As I reflected in awe upon this rare and majestic vision of the illuminated Messengers of God, I felt my spirit soar. Projecting itself out from the dazzling form of the Prophet Muhammad, the last in God's great line of prophets, was the luminous face of my Beloved Lord, Ali. I felt myself irresistibly drawn towards their combined radiance. As I drew closer, their faces seemed to blur and become obliterated by the sheer power and brilliance of their light. All I could see was the glowing incandescence of their shining frames as they once again merged into a single ray of Light. In that brief but glorious moment of illumination, I knew that I had arrived. I had arrived at the very threshold of my Truth."

~ Excerpted from "A Passage to Eternity" by Azmina Suleman, (2004, pp. 61-62).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An Imaginal Hermeneutic

There is a place for an Imaginal hermeneutic of al-Fatiha that has not been part of the exegetical tradition or the tradition of Tafsir. A Canadian Muslim author and journalist, Azmina Suleman, recounts her Near Death Experience of December 1998 in a memoir entitled "A Passage to Eternity." In it, she offers a moving account of what she encountered. Is it not entirely possible that her description has some bearing on the interpretation of "Those Upon Whom Thou Hast Bestowed Favors?"

"And so, it was not the blare of a trumpet that heralded the start of the proceedings afoot, but the quieter and softer timbre of a harp that wove itself spellbindingly into my soul. Someone was playing a harp somewhere in the sky above me. Although I could not make out who it was, I got the distinct impression that it was a female form draped in a toga reminiscent of a Greek goddess. I could also see other illustrious shapes begin to materialize in the skyline directly above me. Again, I seemed to intuitively recognize one of the female forms to my left. It was a larger than life figure of Sita, the legendary Hindu princess purported to be the reincarnation of Laksmi and the consort of LordRama.

As I witnessed the mesmerizing play of light upon the darkly ethereal skies, I noticed several whirls of light suddenly sweep into focus at lightning speed from what appeared to be a faraway galaxy of space. They seemed to have a life of their own as they quickly arranged themselves into graceful configurations of light. The result was the formation of several constellations of brilliant white stars that appeared almost linear in their formation, like one-line drawings in neon lights.

As I watched enthralled, the intricate formations of light began to emblazon themselves boldly against the sky and position themselves strategically above the clusters of darker lights around the coliseum. I got the distinct impression that these strangely vivified and imposing configurations of light were here exclusively by invitation. They literally seemed to come alive for me even as I began to slowly distinguish some of the glowing outlines sprawled across the great infinity of space around me.

As I watched closely, I discovered to my great astonishment that what I was looking at were really straight line depictions of the heads and upper torsos of people that I actually recognized from the history books! These "star heads," as I like to call them, seemed to symbolically convey to me that what mattered in this higher dimension was what was in our heart and in the space between our two ears. In other words, they represented the intellectual elite and geniuses of our time that had spanned the ages.

One of the first shapes that I recognized was that of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, followed by his student Plato (whom I was only able to identify much later). Next to them was the tall and imposing image of the fifteenth-century Italian renaissance painter, Leonardo daVinci. To their extreme right was the distinctive outline of the sixteenth-century English playwright William Shakespeare, and the eighteenth-century Austrian-born musical genius Beethoven. They were followed by the more recent and recognizable faces of the twentieth-century nuclear physicist Albert Einstein, and the German theologian, philosopher, Christian missionary, and winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize - Albert Schweitzer.

These "star heads," to my mind, did not merely denote the eggheads but were individuals who came with stellar credentials. They were the trailblazers and amongst the brightest stars in our universe whose light had definitely shone the brightest. They were the inspired thinkers, philosophers, scholars, poets, painters, artists, musicians, scientists, philanthropists, and humanitarians who had dramatically revolutionized the thinking of their times. These were the renaissance men, the true movers and shakers of our age who had awakened us to the existence of new possibilities both in the world around us and indeed within ourselves."

~ Excerpted from A Passage to Eternity by Azmina Suleman (2004, pp. 94-95).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sharia & Siratal Mustaqim

John Esposito, Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, in his book ," Islam, the Straight Path" offers one interpretation of the relationship between Sharia and the Siratal Mustaqim:

"The literal meaning of Sharia is "the road to the watering hole," the clear, right, or straight path to be followed. In Islam, it came to mean the divinely mandated path, the straight path of Islam, that Muslims were to follow, God's will or law. However, because the Quran does not provide an exhaustive body of laws, the desire to discover and delineate Islamic law in a comprehensive and consistent fashion led to the development of the science of law, or jurisprudence (fiqh). Fiqh, "understanding," is that science or discipline that sought to ascertain, interpret, and apply God's will or guidance (Sharia) as found in the Quran to all aspects of life."

~ excerpt from Islam, the Straight Path (2005, p. 78) by John Esposito, Professor of Religion and International Affairs, at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.

My question to John Esposito would be: "Is there not an implication in his interpretation that the Quran is incomplete without Fiqh?" My own sense is that there are varying levels of understanding the Straight path and that Sharia is perhaps the introductory level of such an appreciation of its meaning. From the perspective of an Integral Psychology of Islam, I will be examining the Straight Path as a multi-dimensional ethical sytem which is influenced by the level of one's own spiritual evolution, such that the spiritual aspirant engages Siratal Mustaqim - not just as a system of laws to be followed - but as a direction for the soul's elevation to its highest potential by the alignment of the Personal Will with the Transpersonal Will. Is that not the example set by those thousands of spiritual luminaries upon whom Allah has bestowed His favors, since the beginning of time? They were not impeded by the absence of any Fiqh. Theirs was a spiritual search to strive to live in a manner that was pleasing to Allah in action, mind, heart and soul.