Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

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).

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