Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Former President Khatami on the aim of prophethood.

After former President Khatami made his international debut at the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, he explained why he had called for a dialogue of civilizations at an informal press breakfast, as reported by Robin Wright in "Dreams and Shadows:"

"At the end of the twentieth century...what is the legacy of humanity? In his famous book The Republic, Plato says, 'What is justice?'" Khatami opined to a group of journalists who had all come to talk about issues a bit more pressing than ancient Greek philosophy.

"The Koran says that the aim of the prophethood was defense of justice and equality. One can interpret the same meaning from the Bible and the Torah. But twenty-five hundred years after Plato, two thousand years after Jesus, and fourteen hundred years after Mohammed, we still ask: What is meant by justice? The very fact that humanity has not reached a united definition means we are still in a period of trial and error. We need to have a dialogue among civilizations about the issue of justice. We must make efforts to have greater equality and justice for all humanity." (2008, pp. 304-305).

Is there not an inference in Surah 1:7 that the Siratal Mustaqim -the path of those upon whom God has bestowed Grace - that all 124,000 prophets of the past were proactively engaged in defining and in seeking Justice and Equality in order to re-create a moral society?

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Mufti of Australia weighs in on gender parity

This was reported in the New Straits Times Online on November 23, 2008


The Mufti of Australia wants men and women to worship together in mosques, it is reported.

Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam said he would end segregation of men and women in mosques, in response to Muslim women’s anger at "entrenched discrimination", The Age newspaper said.

He said he would put his proposal to the next meeting of the Australian National Imams Council and consider how women could share the room with men during prayers.

At most mosques in Australia, everyone prays in the same room in rows, with men at the front, then children, then women.

Sheikh Fehmi said segregated worship was introduced long ago, as a cultural change, not a religious one, and he would argue to end it. He said it was good to hear the complaints, and to try to find some solution to these concerns in an exclusive interview.

“My duty is to propose, to discuss and try to convince. I can’t guarantee the outcome.”
Sheikh Fehmi said that in the time of Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago, women were not segregated.

In some mosques overseas, there are no physical barriers between men’s and women’s areas but in Australia almost every mosque have separate sections for men and women, the newspaper said.

Sydney lecturer Jamila Hussain on Thursday told a conference at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies here that women found facilities at some mosques "insulting" and that they were treated as second-class citizens.

Jamila yesterday welcomed Sheikh Fehmi’s promise to try to end segregation.

“It’s an excellent start. But I’m a bit hesitant about when or whether it will happen — it will be a while,” she is quoted by The Age as saying.

Islamic Council of Victoria vice-president Sherene Hassan told the newspaper Sheikh Fehmi’s plan was a fine initiative, and it was good to see imams being proactive. “It is in line with true Islamic teaching.” Several Muslim women spoke out about discrimination and disadvantage this week at the conference.

In particular, a report by the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria highlighted problems with imams, claiming some were condoning domestic violence, rape in marriage, welfare fraud and exploitation of vulnerable women. Sheikh Fehmi, who is also secretary of the Victorian Board of Imams, acknowledged there were problems.

“Imams are human beings, and every human being is fallible. So, if one imam errs on a point we should not generalise and say all imams are the same,” he said.

Jamila, who studied Sydney mosques, said that in some, women had to pray in the yard under a blazing sun while men enjoyed the cool interior, or to pray in a kitchen between stoves and sinks, or to pray in a tent in full view of a pub across the road.

The chairwoman of the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council, Tasneem Chopra, said Sheikh Fehmi’s response made her optimistic that better outcomes could be negotiated. — Neville D’Cruz, BERNAMA

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An Iranian ex-revolutionary on Siratal Mustaqim, Love & Reason.

I came across Abdolkarim Soroush's 'engagement' in Robin Wright's book entitled "Dreams and Shadows - The Future of the Middle East." Soroush, in his interview with Wright, references the Iranian Shia interpretation of Siratal Mustaqim within the context of a discussion with Wright on ijtihad:

"Soroush also challenges the core idea - on which Iran's Islamic government was based - that there is a single right path for the faithful to follow. Tehran's clerics believe that they are the only ones who can define it.

Soroush argues, however, that there is no single right path in Islam - and no single right religion.

"Every day, Muslims recite a prayer ten times entreating God to guide us to the right path," he explained to me. "Some say the only right path is Islam, and the rest stray or are on a deviant path. But I argue that there are many right paths. I try to justify a pluralistic view of religions - the internal sects of Sunni, Shia, and others, and also the great religions, like Christianity, Judaism, and the rest."

"We think they go to hell, and they think we go to hell," he said, a smile crossing his face,as if the idea were amusing in its smallness.

"But I am trying to say that Christians and members of other religions are well guided and good servants of God. All are equally rightful in what they believe. To some this sounds like heresy," he said, the smile widening. "But this, too, has found listening ears in our society. " (2008, p. 271)

Abdolkarim Soroush

The following article by Soroush appears in, published on March 30, 2007

On Reason

Religious intellectuals in Iran are striving to redefine the relationship between reason and revelation, and, despite Pope Benedict's belief to the contrary, consider Islam to consist precisely of multiple interpretations, writes Abdolkarim Soroush. Reason's greatest rival is not religion, then, but revolution. Speaking from personal experience of Iran's Cultural Revolution, which he supported, Soroush warns: "The first resource that is squandered in a revolution is rationality and the last thing that returns home is rationality. If it ever returns."

A good deal of truth is contained in Richard Rorty's comment that, in the Middle Ages, God was god; that in the Age of Enlightenment and modernity, reason became god; and that today, in the postmodern age, there is no God. The idol or the god of reason has been shattered. Today, the beloved notion of "rationality", once one of the most lofty and sacred of terms, conveys little more than a suspect, ambiguous, and modest meaning. Aristotelian reason, Cartesian reason, Kantian reason, Hegelian reason, religious reason, historical reason, dialectical reason, theoretical reason, practical reason, and all the other varieties of reason, have smashed the mirror into a thousand pieces, so as to make it impossible to see any whole and undistorted image reflected in it.

Today when someone speaks of reason, they are referring either to the logical methods of deductive and inductive reasoning, proof and refutation, and so on, or to the products of reason, including philosophy, language, morality, science, and the like. Since these products are all fluid and mutable, it is considered axiomatic in our times that reason changes (or evolves and is infinitely perfectible). Modern reason and classical reason are different because the products of these two reasons, in other words their science, philosophy, morality, politics and economics, are different. Since this is the case, submitting to a kind of relativism is unavoidable. This is exactly the situation in which we live and breathe today.

Some Muslim philosophers view theoretical reason as a set of theoretical, self-evident truths, and practical reason as a set of practical, self-evident truths. Regarding this definition, it has to be said that self-evident truths have changed; what seemed self-evident to people in the past no longer seems self-evident today. The existence of God was something akin to a theoretical, self-evident truth in the Middle Ages, whereas today it has lost this standing. Conversely, human rights are considered to be self-evident truths in our times, whereas in the past they were not. The Age of Enlightenment believed itself to be enlightened and described the Middle Ages as the dark ages. And, of course, people in the Middle Ages would have taken the opposite view: they would have said that they were enlightened and that the holders of any rival views were living in the dark.

The fact that hardly anyone uses the expression "the dark ages" anymore itself testifies to a major change of stance on knowledge. It has become clear that both the Age of Enlightenment and the Middle Ages were caught up in and delimited by their own paradigms or self-evident truths; that the inhabitants of the two (epistemic) paradigms could hardly have raised their heads above their own ramparts to criticize themselves. It was only when these ramparts fell away that eyes were opened and tongues could speak. Our situation in the postmodern age is similar. The point we have learnt from Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault, among others, is that we do not have one single rationality but rationalities.

The lesson for us in all of this is rational modesty. In the past, it used to be said that arrogance and selfishness were impediments to rationality; now, we have to say that arrogance equals irrationality and that modesty is one of the essential virtues of rational people and seekers of learning.

Extracting general, universal, ahistorical rulings from the heart of "absolute, ahistorical reason" and considering them applicable to all people in all ages has become more difficult today than ever before. Humanity has arrived at a healthy and beneficial pluralism and relativism, the fruit of which is modesty and the rejection of dogmatism. We must be thankful for this and see it as a good omen. But reason has not only been faced, internally, with a host of shattering, reason-crushing forms; it has also had to contend with many external rivals. I will mention three of these rivals, of which I have personal experience.

Reason and revelation

Pope Benedict XVI, in his controversial Regensburg speech, boasted of the collaboration between Christianity and Greek philosophy, describing their reconciliation and alliance as auspicious and epoch-making. He criticized Islam and Protestantism for not having established as strong a link as they should have done with rationality, particularly philosophical and Greek rationality. He even described the God of Islam as an irrational God or even an anti-rational God.

This is not the place at which to assess the Pope's at times inaccurate and ill-judged remarks. The point is that the relationship between reason and revelation has never been smooth and altogether friendly. Revelation-independent reason has always been viewed as a rival of revelation and prophets never liked being called philosophers. Theologians, who made religious belief reasoned and rational, and saw themselves as serving religion in this way, were considered traitors by religions' orthodox followers. The latter were of the opinion that rationalizing religion meant subjecting religion to reason and measuring its truth and veracity on the scale of rationality, and that this was, at the very least, a suspect and useless thing to do. Believers maintained that revelation had come to assist reason; how, then, could this relationship be turned on its head by having reason assist revelation? Some would go even further and say that the candle of reason was useful in the gloom that preceded revelation; once the sun of revelation dawned, that candle had to be snuffed out.

Cooperation between reason and revelation was, of course, another option. The basis for this cooperation was the idea that the God who created reason was the same God who sent us revelation. Many great Christian and Islamic philosophers, such as Avicenna, Farabi, and Thomas Aquinas, belonged to this line of thought. Sadreddin Shiraz, the seventeenth century Iranian philosopher, went so far as to say: "Woe betide any philosophy that is not confirmed by God's religion!" The Mu'tazilite school of theology, which unfortunately suffered a devastating historical defeat at the hands of its Ash'arite rival, was founded on the basis of the compatibility of reason and religion and was also on good terms with Greek philosophy. The God of the Mu'tazilites was a just and moral God, whose conduct was in keeping with rational criteria. This was also the Mu'tazilites understanding of the prophet Mohammed and his teachings. Reason in this school was so corpulent as to make religion seem emaciated by comparison; unlike the Ash'arite school of theology, which had a corpulent religion and an emaciated rationality. The Sufis, for their part – who were a different creed altogether – had attained a corpulent love, alongside which both religion and reason seemed emaciated.

At any rate, the discoveries of empirical reason in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, and the conflict between science and scripture, suddenly awakened the dormant battle between reason and revelation and sent perilous waves crashing through this ocean again. I believe that the conflict proved auspicious for both sides, in other words, for both science and religion. It taught both to become more modest, to make fewer claims, and made them more sensitive to the sophistication of the truths that are discovered in different realms. Of course, the battle – alongside the emergence of Protestantism and the bloody conflicts between the different Christian sects – paved the way for the onset of full-blown secularism. When states began proclaiming independence from religion, the hegemony of one religion over all others was broken.

Although Islamic revelation has on occasion been on good terms and on occasion on bad terms with non-religious reason (and especially philosophical/Greek reason), it was never confronted by empirical reason, simply because modern empirical science did not develop among Muslims. Therefore they neither suffered the perils of this battle, nor did they benefit from its blessings.
When science arrived victorious in the Islamic countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Muslims, far from quaking in their boots, rejoiced that the victor that had vanquished Christianity would now be befriending Islam. It is interesting to note that modern science and philosophy met almost no resistance in Islamic countries. First, the doors of universities and then the doors of seminaries were thrown open to the new disciplines and they became the subjects of study and discussion. This was also the case in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. I remember how, as a member of the Cultural Revolution Institute after the revolution, an Italian reporter asked me whether the theory of evolution would be eliminated from university curricula. I told him that it would not and then thought to myself that such a notion had never occurred to me or my colleagues. Of course, Marxism should be bracketed off in this respect: clerics have always seen it as a materialist and anti-religious theory.

Today, religious intellectuals in Iran are striving to redefine the relationship between reason and revelation; basing their approach on the interpretation of the Quran in particular, they are seeking assistance from modern hermeneutics and the experience of Christianity. Despite what Pope Benedict seems to think, far from fearing multiple interpretations of the Quran, or deeming these to be a violation of the Quran's status as divine revelation, these religious intellectuals believe that Islam consists precisely of such multiple interpretations, and that it is virtually impossible to reach religion's pure kernel.

Reason and love

The lofty and sturdy tradition of Islamic Sufism was a reaction to two things: first, to the unrestrained corruption, materialism, and pleasure-seeking of the courts under the Umavid and Abbasid caliphates; and second, to the terrifying, tyrannical, and omnipotent God described in the Ash'arites and the Mu'tazilites relentless philosophical digressions into God's attributes and actions, particularly his justness. The first reaction produced ascetic Sufism, the second, the Sufism of love. The Sufism of love drew a line under both reason and fear. It wanted to love God, not to fear God. And it wanted to be enchanted by God, as a lover is enchanted by the beloved, not to unravel God, as a philosopher solves a puzzle. Mansour Hallaj, the renowned ninth century Sufi, conveyed the condensed essence of this approach as follows: "The beloved is brimming with allures, not secrets." In other words, God is an object for lovers. And love was such that it went to war with reason. Perhaps the word "war" seems too strong, but perusing the works of Sufis conveys nothing less than this.

Love became the rival of both theoretical reason and practical reason. For one thing, Sufis claim that love grants a lover eyes to see vistas that are beyond the realm of reason. Jalal-al-Din Rumi, the greatest Iranian-Afghan mystic and poet, born in 1234, says to his master and friend Shams-e Tabrizi: "Shams-e Tabriz, love can know you, reason cannot." In other words, love grants knowledge. It is capable of making discoveries and its findings have cognitive import. Another aspect of Sufism is the belief that reason is a selfish, profit-seeking, and conservative creature not prone to selflessness, benevolence, and self-sacrifice. Love, on the other hand, reduces selfishness to zero, "kills the self", makes the lover generous, good-natured, hardy, and gallant, and heals all the lover's spiritual ills.

Although this love is the kernel of religiosity, it in fact lies beyond the believer's duties. Most believers seek some benefit and reward from their religiosity; although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, it is far from the lofty heights attained by the lover, who leaves behind the realm of benefits and rewards and takes the course of a lover's gamble. A Sufism built on this kind of love is cheek by jowl with revelation and more or less views prophets as great mystics who placed the products of their contemplations at people's disposal. Mystics who are not prophets have no such mission.

At any rate, the relationship between Sufism and philosophy or love and reason – like the relationship between reason and revelation – has not been smooth. Muslim philosophers have benefited from mysticism just as they have benefited from revelation, and have understood neither as being contrary to pure reason. The least that can be said is that philosophers have taken on board those mystical findings that have lent themselves to reason and have opted for silence on the rest. But mystics preferred minds that were unencumbered by philosophy and considered philosophical musings and "attachment to causes" to be incompatible with a lover's position. Moreover, although the pre-conceptual and pre-theoretical understanding of mystics could be poured into philosophers' conceptual moulds, in doing so they lost their novelty and authenticity –- this made mystics steer away from philosophy.

Having taught both philosophy and mysticism, I have dwelt in the heart of this duality all my life and have watched my students well to see which way they would jump. I have rarely come across anyone who can endure this tug-of-war and continue to hang on to both ends. Ultimately, either reason or love has triumphed; more often than not, love has proved stronger.

Reason and revolution

Revolution is a blistering explosion of hatred and the discharged energy of this ruinous emotion. It has no affinity with the coolness of analytical reason. What affinity can there be between a hatred that wants to destroy tradition, monarchy, property, and so on, and a reason that wants to know and understand?

In revolutions, love and emotions are invariably given their due, but reason is not so well served. Much time passes before a revolution's leaders rein in the destruction and turn to rationality and construction. To be fair, revolutions are not without rationality, but their rationality mostly manifests itself as the rejection of the outgoing rationality. Revolutionaries know what they oppose, but they are a long way from knowing what they favour.

Revolutionaries are fiery idealists who are deluded about what they can achieve. They imagine that they can change traditions and human beings quickly and replace them with new traditions and new human beings. All revolutions are anarchist to some extent – if there is no component of anarchism within revolution, it is not a revolution. In revolutions, the colourful spectrum of reality pales into monochrome and everything is reduced to black and white: the past is bad, the future is good; a counterrevolutionary is bad, a revolutionary is good; and so on.

In this way, the door is shut to analytical reason, which seeks more subtle and realistic categorizations. In revolutions, there is just one single measure for good and bad: the revolution itself. And this is tantamount to abandoning all measures: not only is the revolution good, but the revolution equals good! When something becomes its own measure, irrationality has arrived.

The task of rational people in the middle of revolutions is not to turn back the revolutionary wave; this is beyond their abilities. Their task is to reduce the destruction and to guide energies away from chaos and destruction and towards rebuilding. Having experienced a revolution myself and been charged with responsibilities within it, I have seen this truth first hand. Anyone who has witnessed a revolution recognizes the culpability of those who leave the people no option but to resort to a revolution. The first resource that is squandered in a revolution is rationality and the last thing that returns home is rationality. If it ever returns.

Of these three-fold rivals of reason – revelation, love, and revolution – it is the third that is the most merciless. Revelation has more or less conducted a reasonable historical exchange with reason, which can be beneficial to both sides. Love, for its part, has always been a rare good, in the possession of a small minority. While it stirs up excitement, it has not stirred up wickedness. But, when faced with all-embracing revolutions, which have neither love's beauty nor revelation's sanctity, people can only seek refuge in God; for revolutions rob people of both life and reason. The wise ones in any community have a duty to steer political, social, and economic policies towards a rational and just system, so that the need never arises for revolutionary destruction and irrationality. It behoves them to spread justice to keep the revolution at bay.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feminine Rock Music of the Soul?

I could not resist this story because it speaks to the inevitability of gender parity in Islam in the 21st Century. Not only will music become a fully accepted part of the every day Muslim lifestyle but new art forms and expressions are bound to thrive. If this can happen in Saudi Arabia, we're in for some huge quantum leaps in Muslim self-expression.

November 24, 2008

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia – They cannot perform in public. They cannot pose for album cover photographs. Even their jam sessions are secret, for fear of offending the religious authorities in this ultraconservative kingdom.

But the members of Saudi Arabia's first all-girl rock band, the Accolade, are clearly not afraid of taboos.

The band's first single, "Pinocchio," has become an underground hit here, with hundreds of young Saudis downloading the song from the group's Web site. Now, the pioneering young foursome, all of them college students, want to start playing regular gigs – inside private compounds, of course – and recording an album.

"In Saudi, yes, it's a challenge," said the group's spiky-haired lead singer, Lamia, who has piercings on her left eyebrow and beneath her bottom lip. (Like other band members, she gave only her first name.) "Maybe we're crazy. But we wanted to do something different."

In a country where women are not allowed to drive and rarely appear in public without their faces covered, the band is very different indeed. The prospect of female rockers clutching guitars and belting out angry lyrics about a failed relationship – the theme of "Pinocchio" – would once have been unimaginable here.

But this country's harsh code of public morals has slowly thawed, especially in Jiddah, by far the kingdom's most cosmopolitan city. A decade ago, the cane-wielding religious police terrorized women who were not dressed according to their standards.

Today, there is a growing rock scene with dozens of bands, some of them even selling tickets to their performances. Hip-hop is also popular. The religious police – strictly speaking, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – have largely retreated from the streets of Jiddah, and they are somewhat less aggressive even in the kingdom's desert heartland.

The change has been especially noticeable since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Saudis confronted the effects of extremism both outside and inside the kingdom. More than 60 percent of Saudi Arabia's population is under 25, and many younger people are pressing for greater freedoms.

"The upcoming generation is different from the one before," said Dina, the Accolade's 21-year-old guitarist and founder. "Everything is changing. Maybe in 10 years it's going to be OK to have a band with live performances."

Dina said she first dreamed of starting a band three years ago. In September, she and her sister Dareen, 19, who plays bass, teamed up with Lamia and Amjad, the keyboardist.

They were already iconoclasts: Dina and Dareen, both strikingly attractive, wear their hair teased into thick manes and have pierced eyebrows. During an interview with the band at a Starbucks, they wore black abayas – the flowing gown that is standard attire for women – but the gowns were open, showing their jeans and T-shirts, and their hair and faces were uncovered. Women are more apt to go uncovered in Jiddah than in most other parts of the country, though it is still an uncommon sight.

The band gets together to practice every weekend at the sisters' house, where their younger brother sometimes fills in on drums. Early this month, Dina, who studies art at King Abdulaziz University, began writing a song based on one of her favorite paintings, "The Accolade," by the English pre-Raphaelite painter Edmund Blair Leighton. The painting depicts a long-haired noblewoman knighting a young warrior with a sword.

"I liked the painting because it shows a woman who is satisfied with a man," Dina said.
She had thought of writing a song based on "Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci but decided that doing so would be taking controversy too far. (In Saudi Arabia, churches are not allowed, and Muslims who convert to Christianity can be executed.)

Dina held out her cell phone to show a video of the band practicing at home. It looked like a garage-band jam session anywhere in the world, with the sisters hunching over their instruments, their brother blasting away at the drums and Lamia clutching a microphone.
"We're looking for a drummer," Lamia said. "Five guys have offered, but we really want the band to be all female."

Although they know they are doing something unusual, in person the band members seem more playful than provocative. Unlike some of the wealthier Saudi youth who have lived abroad and tasted Western lifestyles, they are middle class and have never left their country.

"What we're doing – it's not something wrong, it's art, and we're doing it in a good way," Dina said. "We respect our traditions."

All the members are quick to add that they disapprove of smoking, drinking and drugs.
"You destroy yourself with that," Lamia said.

Yet rock 'n' roll itself is suspect in Saudi Arabia in part because of its association with decadent lifestyles. Most of the bands here play heavy metal, which has only added to the stigma because of the way some Western heavy metal bands use images linked to satanism or witchcraft. In Saudi Arabia, people are sometimes imprisoned and even executed on charges of practicing witchcraft.

The first rock bands appeared here about 20 years ago, according to Hassan Hatrash, a 34-year-old journalist and bass player who was one of the pioneers, and their numbers gradually grew. Then in 1995, the police raided a performance in Jiddah, hauling about 300 young men off to jail, including Hatrash. They were released a few days later without being charged. (There is no actual law against playing rock music or holding public performances here.)

Hatrash, who has graying shoulder-length hair, recalled how the religious police used to harass young men who advertised their interest in rock 'n' roll. He was once taken to a police station where his head was shaved.

In recent years, with the religious police on the defensive, bands have begun to play concerts, and a few have recorded albums.

The Accolade plans to move slowly, Dina said, with "jams for ladies only" at first. The band members' parents support them, though they have asked them to keep things quiet.

Eventually, Dina said, they hope to play real concerts, perhaps in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
"It's important for them to see what we're capable of," she said.

Rumi seeks the Tawhid of Siratal Mustaqim in the Silence

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.
In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.

The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks (p. 32. 1995).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Anonymous raises questions that need answers

Salam U Alaikum brother,

Thank you for the response to my question, I see what you're trying to say, however I am wondering that the Quran has also made a lot of references to the point that the Jews were subject to the wrath of God (since they didn't believe in Jesus as a prophet of God) and the Christians were the ones who had gone astray (who claimed Jesus to be a God). So since these references have been made through out the Quran, the implication seems reasonable. I ask you, is it incorrect that the Quran has made references to the aforementioned points? Thanks

Thank you for the question because clearly there have been such references but they have to be seen in a historical and theological context. The Qur'an seeks to clarify certain distinctions between the three Abrahamic faiths. The Qur'an also makes it very clear that although there may have been misinterpretations or "corruptions" in previous scriptures the diversity and plurality of various faith expressions are the very manifestations of the Divine Will, as per Sura 5: 51 in the translation by Yusuf Ali (in other translations, this sura is found in 5:48):

"To thee We sent the Scripture
In Truth, confirming
The scripture that came
Before it, and guarding it
In safety: so judge
Between them by what
God hath revealed,
And follow not their vain
Desires, diverging
From the Truth that hath come
To thee. To each among you
Have We prescribed a Law
And an Open Way.
If God had so willed,
He would have made you
A single People, but (His
Plan is) to test you in what
He hath given you: so strive
As in a race in all virtues.
The goal of you all is to God;
It is He that will show you
The truth of the matters
In which ye dispute;"

The renowned South African scholar of Islam, Farid Esack elaborates on this theme in his book
"Qur'an, Liberation and Pluralism - An Islamic Perspective of Interreligious Solidarity against Oppression:"

"The Qur'an regards Muhammad as one of a galaxy of prophets, some of whom are mentioned specifically in the Qur'an while 'others you do not know' (40:78). The same din, the Qur'an declares, 'was enjoined on Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus' (42:13) 'You are but a warner', the Qur'an tells Muhammad, 'and every people has had its guide ' (13:08, see also 16:36 and 35:24). The fact that the Qur'an incorporates accounts of the lives of these predecessors of Muhammad and makes it part of its own history is perhaps the most significant reflection of its emphasis on the unity of din. These prophets came with identical messages which they preached within the context of various and differing situations of their people. Basically, they came to reawaken the commitment of people to tawhid, to remind them about the ultimate accountability to God and to establish justice. 'And for every ummah there is a messenger. So when their messenger comes the matter is decided between them with justice, and they will not be wronged' (10:47)." (2002, p. 116).

~ Excerpted from "Qur'an - Liberation & Pluralism" by Farid Esack.who did his undergraduate studies in Islam at Jami'ah Ulum al-Islamia and graduated from Jami'ah Alimiyyah al-Islamia with a Bachelors Degree in Islamic Law & Theology. He did post-graduate research in Qur'anic Studies at Jami'ah Abu Bakr (all in Karachi) and completed a doctoral degree in Qur'anic Hermeneutics at University of Birmingham (UK). In 1994-95 he was a Research Fellow in Biblical Hermeneutics at Philosophische Theologische Hochschule, Sankt Georgen, Frankfurt am Main.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Siratal Mustaqim within the context of pluralism?

Aga Khan holds up Canada as model for the world

Don Cayo
Canwest News Service
Sunday, November 23, 2008

TORONTO - What may often sound to Canadians like a discordant cacophony of voices from our diverse cultures and interest groups is apparently music to the ears of the Aga Khan.
In an exclusive interview on Sunday with Canwest News Service, the hereditary leader of the world's 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims held up Canada - a country he has visited often and has maintained a close relationship with throughout his 50-year reign - as a model with much to teach the world.

Not that the Aga Khan, long a champion of the urgent need for pluralism in every society, thinks the rest of the world can be, should be or wants to be just like us. The lesson is not to export a cookie-cutter replica of our society, but rather it's in our method - the way Canadians have learned to craft workable accommodations for the huge diversity of our citizens.

The absence of pluralism is, in his view, a root cause of much of the world's discord. About 40 per cent of the countries in the UN are what he calls "failed democracies" - countries where ethnic or tribal concerns routinely trump the greater good.

The idea of including those who are outside a core group doesn't come naturally to the human species, he said. It is learned.

Canada, he said, "can do an enormous amount" to impart the lesson of its success.
"You have, as far as I can tell, made a wise divide between the economics of the country and the politics of the country," he said. "There is a respect for the notion that economic management today is a science. It's not a political football."

In addition, "You have created a democratic context in which various groups feel comfortable. You have created a genuine pluralist society, and you have looked for leadership in all your groups. That leadership, which is very diverse, gives all these groups a sense of comfort."

Conversely, "If you look at African states or Asian states you can see that there are communities that have been totally marginalized, whether they have competent individuals or not."
There is, perhaps, no better modern-day example to illustrate both sides of that coin than the story of his Ismaili followers replanting their roots in Canada.

In 1957, when he inherited the title of 49th Ismaili imam from his grandfather, Canada had but one Ismaili citizen - Safar Ali Ismaily, who had immigrated here just five years before. This number scarcely grew, with only a tiny trickle of newcomers until 1972 when a flood of about 6,000 refugees arrived from East Africa after their expulsion from newly independent Uganda and the seizure of their assets in Tanzania and Kenya.

But as much as their departures were driven by strife, their arrival has proved to be an uncommon success. Canadian Ismailis have grown to an economically successful community of nearly 100,000, which has maintained an abiding attachment to its members faith and institutions while also engaging vigorously in broader society.

Their initial success was facilitated by the intervention of the Aga Khan himself with his friend, then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who helped pave the way for the diaspora.
It was also helped, he said, by the fact that they spoke English and most were well educated - advantages not enjoyed by many other immigrant groups who have fled to Canada from other parts of the world.

As a Muslim leader, the Aga Khan took care to explain, his role differs from religious leaders in the Judeo-Christian tradition in that his duty includes addressing quality-of-life issues for his followers, not just spiritual matters.

In his role as a temporal leader, he moves as an equal among world leaders, but he has no country.

His followers are spread among 25 countries, many of them fragile or in turmoil. As a minority in the Shia tradition, which is itself a minority in the Muslim faith, Ismailis have often been persecuted and many remain vulnerable in some of the countries where they live.
The success enjoyed by Canadian Ismailis - landing in an open, pluralistic country where they are free to practice their faith and to prosper - isn't in the cards for most who remain in these difficult circumstances.

"If you look at the Ismaili community, or any other community that's as diverse, it's unrealistic to expect that hundreds of thousands of people will ever be able to move from a country like Pakistan, or India, or Afghanistan to the West. That's not realistic.

"Therefore, we are actually committed to try to improve what happens there."

That commitment is manifest through the Aga Khan Development Network. This is a complex web of affiliated non-profit agencies and profit-seeking (but, he stressed, not profit-driven) companies that seek to establish stability and progress in places where there is little or none. Although these agencies focus on countries where Ismailis live, they work with people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

The network is funded in part by the Aga Khan's personal wealth, both inherited and built through his business acumen, as well as the tithes of its followers. But it also has non-Ismaili supporters, and it collaborates extensively with other agencies. They include CIDA, the aid arm of the Canadian government, which he singled out as a particularly significant and long-standing partner.

The Aga Khan was in Toronto as part of an eight-day visit to Canada in celebration of his 50th jubilee. The visit includes high-level meetings with a variety of Canadian leaders as well as celebrations with his followers. He started the visit in Ottawa, he will visit Calgary on Monday, and he will end the tour in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Vancouver Sun

© Canwest News Service 2008

Gender Parity in Al-Fatiha

As I have noted in my prior posts on Bibi Miriam, until tradition-bound Muslims can accept that a woman also has the capacity for Prophet hood, sainthood and hence spiritual leadership, it will be difficult to accept the notion of gender parity in certain parts of the Ummah. However, there is hope on the horizon and this is as a result of creating equal opportunities for women in the field of education. As Hooman Majd reports in his book "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ," the issue is quickly emerging so that we may even see some progress in our lifetimes:

"A nation that churns out hundreds of thousands of college graduates each year - 60 percent of them women - many of whom end up either jobless or working in fields below their qualifications (such as running a taxi service or even driving a cab), will have to deal with the question of gender equality sooner rather than later, and Bojnourdi's pronouncements on female presidents, distraction or not, are seen to be a step in the right direction. For if a woman can be president, it surely follows that she can also be a judge (a position denied the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi), and if she can be a judge, then perhaps more liberal interpretations of the law, on issues such as divorce, child custody, and spousal rights, might soon gain favor. And if a woman can be president, then surely she would no longer need her husband's or her father's permission to travel abroad - a law that dates from the time of the Shah, who despite his Western ways and progressive reputation, was as sexist and misogynist as some of the Ayatollahs - unlike Bojnourdi, who is a voice of reason in an often unreasonable debate.

The Shah, who had divorced two women he claimed to love for their inability to produce a male heir, when asked by Barbara Walters in an interview in 1977 about his earlier sexist comments to the journalist Oriana Fallaci, didn't deny them, and in fact went further in dismissing equality of the sexes and betrayed his misogyny by saying that women hadn't even been able to produce a famous and great chef (he must not have heard of Alice Waters, whose reputation and restaurant were in their infancy at the time). Walter's follow up question, with the Shah's wife, Farah, looking on, was whether he believed that Mrs. Pahlavi could govern as as well as a man, and he replied that he "preferred not to answer." I remember feeling sorry for the empress, whose tear-filled eyes were clearly visible even on my small portable TV. But in the context of the kinds odd questions on women's rights that have been debated in Iran since before the revolution, it is easy to see why the issue of the hijab, a flashpoint for liberals in the West but an inconvenience that pales in significance compared with other gender issues in Iran, is not a battle that women are keen to fight, at least not yet." (2008, pp. 215-216).

~ Excerpted from "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" by Hooman Majd.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

Iranian-American author, Hooman Majd's recently published memoir "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ - the Paradox of Modern Iran" offers rich insights into the culture and religious expression of the country of his birth. Here's a taste, and it goes to the heart of sexism in the culture of Iran and its expression of Islam:

"I met with Ayatollah Bojnourdi for the second time in Tehran after Ahmadinejad took office and the reformers he was close to had suffered a stinging loss at the polls. Bojnourdi, who with visible pride told me of his audience with Pope John Paul II, is known for his progressive views on women's rights in Islam, although his front office was staffed with women fully enveloped in black chadors, not scarves. One of them served us tea and Persian sweets while we sat and chatted, or, more accurately, while I sat and he chatted, but at least women were present, I thought, even if they didn't shake hands with men - unlike in Qom, where senior Ayatollah offices are all- male enclaves. Bojnourdi himself doesn't have a strong feeling on men shaking hands with women and believes it to be a nonissue, although he himself would not shake the hand of a woman not his wife, sister, or daughter (mahram to men in Islam, which means women who can be uncovered and one can physically touch, while all other women, even cousins and aunts, are na-mahram, and therefore even their hair mustn't be seen).

An endearing and disarmingly laid-back rotund man, the Ayatollah launched into a spirited defense of Khatami and his policies, policies that he claimed had the full support of the people. Barely giving me time to comment, he then jumped to a defense of Islam: his Islam. Islam, he said, is based on logic, Islam is based on friendship and love, and Islam's ideology is the ideology of freedom. "The twelfth Imam will come (it appears that all Shia roads lead back to the Mahdi), and he will bring the Islam of dialogue, not of blood!" he exclaimed. But what about the lack of certain freedoms in the Islamic Republic? "In Shia Islam, anyone has the ability to disagree. In the West, and even in Iran, things are done in the name of Islam that are not Islamic," Bojnourdi said, implying but bot specifying his view that many of the freedoms curtailed in his country have no basis in his religion. "Islam made a point of a peaceful dialogue fourteen hundred years ago," he pointed out. "Islam teaches character and morality. There is no ambiguousness about that," he continued. What about the role of women in Islam? I asked. "Women have all the God-given rights. A`woman can certainly be president." Bojnourdi added, referring to the argument before every presidential election when women are automatically disqualified from running, despite registering freely as candidates in the initial stages of the process. That opinion on women's rights alone puts him at odds with many fellow Ayatollahs, has enhanced his stature among Iranian females (and activists quote him), and perhaps accounts for the all-female staff in his front office.

It could be argued that Bojnourdi's stance on female presidents is a clever distraction from the larger issue of gender equality in Islam, for although women in the Islamic Republic enjoy rights that women in some Arab countries can only dream of, they are hobbled in achieving parity with their male counterparts by interpretations of Islam that vary widely among the clerics of Shia Islam, and "God-given rights" is, after all, a rather ambiguous phrase. How to challenge Islamic law that states, for example, that a woman's testimony carries half the weight of a man's, or that a woman can inherit only half of what a male sibling can, is an issue on the minds of feminists who are generally careful to not be seen as un-Islamic, and opinions from Ayatollahs such as Bojnourdi are crucial to the advancement of their cause." (2008, pp.213-215).

~ Excerpted from "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" by Hooman Majd, the grandson of an eminent Ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Al-Hamd in the way of Rumi and Hafiz

Interview with Iraj Anvar

"I have known Rumi all my life," Iraj Anvar says. "When I was a baby my father would sing me to sleep with the Mathnawi. It was part of my household. "Born in Iran, Anvar's first career as a theater director in Tehran brought him to America, where he soon found himself estranged from his country by the Iranian Revolution. He found another career as a professor of Persian Literature at NYU and eventually worked with Elizabeth Grey on The Green Sea of Heaven, her book of translations of Hafiz. But despite his dismay at the translations of Rumi available in English, he was reluctant to attempt his own until a friend insisted, telling him, "America wants to know what Rumi really says!" Now Iraj completes the cycle that began when he was a child, singing and reciting Rumi in the Persian language and reciting his inspiring translations, some of which have been published in a bilingual edition entitled Divan-i Shams-i Tabriz, excerpts from which are included here. He is also teaching a course in Rumi at Sufi Books, where his intimate experience of Sufism enhances the appreciation of this most inexhaustible of mystical poets. —Anne Twitty

Parabola: Rumi is now known worldwide, and it seems that the effect of his words — even in translation — awakens a deep response within his readers. According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the beauty of Persian poetry attracts the soul, melting "the hardness of the soul and the heart. "He also refers to an Arabic and Persian word husn that means both "virtue" and "beauty." In Western culture, we often think of virtue in terms of the soul, but not necessarily of virtue and beauty being together. In fact, we sometimes think of them as antithetical.

Iraj Anvar: No, in Islam, they are almost the same. Beauty is virtue and virtue is beautiful. Love is the highest and most beautiful virtue. There is a saying of the Prophet: "If Love had a material face, it would be the most beautiful creature."

The face of God is the most beautiful of all, and in the mystical poetry of Rumi and other poets, there are many lines about the beauty of Joseph, which is actually representative of the beauty of God. They refer to it so often!

This beauty is also represented by the saqi who appears in many Persian poems. The cupbearer is beautiful, must be beautiful.

P: He brings the wine of spiritual love.

IA: There is another story: When God created Adam, he made this body which was soulless, and he wanted to send the soul into the body, but the soul said, "No, I'm not a fool, I'm not going to get trapped in there." So God cheated it. He sent some angels into the body, with musical instruments, to play beautiful music, and that's how they lured the soul into the body.

P: Rumi speaks of two kinds of soul in his Discourses. He cautions us that you can't really know the soul unless you have some experience of the other world; otherwise you will confuse that soul with the lower self.

But it seems that there is more than one word in Arabic and Persian that is translated into English as "soul" or occasionally, "spirit." We can easily become confused by them. In one of Rumi's poems, he says that in dreams the soul travels and experiences another world. Is that the ruh, the soul, or spirit, that God originally breathes into the human being?

IA: We have the word ruh in Persian and in Arabic, and we also have a Persian word, Jan. Jan is the soul, but it means "life," as well, and jan-i jan is the soul of the soul. Sometimes jan is ruh, used in the same way.

There is another word, nafs. When we say nafs in general, we always, mean the lower self. Actually, there are five, and you have to have the adjective to distinguish them.

Once Ali was asked, "What is the nafs? Which one are you talking about?" In Arabic, the nafs al-ammara is the imperious self, the one that commands. Then you have nafs al-lawwama. That is the one that scolds you, tells you that this is not right. And then there's the nafs al-mulhima, the one that inspires you. The nafs al-mutmainna gives you certainty and peace.The highest, nafs an-natiqa, means the divine soul, the breath of God.

P: That way of distinguishing them sometimes gives the impression of a ladder that has to be climbed, rung by rung, but perhaps they can also be perceived as different states or qualities of the human being.

It sounds very much as though this description of the soul includes a warning conscience and aspects that assist, enable, help, inspire. These soul-selves show you the way. So the higher educate the lower ones ? And then all of them become unified under the command of the highest?

IA: In reality, the three higher work together under the nafs an-natiqa to tame the lowest one.

P: I have read that al-Ghazali calls that struggle jihad an-nafs, which has been translated as "Fighting the Ego." That nafs is sometimes referred to as the animal nature, but at one point you said in your Rumi class that the lowest nafs is more like what we mean by the ego, in the spiritual sense.

IA: Yes, I think it is. In the old way, you had to kill it. Even Rumi says that we should kill that nafs. Now we understand that we need it, otherwise we cannot survive. But when it goes out of balance, it causes problems. Therefore, it must be tamed and controlled. It is our vehicle to perfection.

P: One of the images of the soul that you have talked about in Rumi and in other Persian poets is the imprisoned bird in the cage, which longs to return to its home.

In your translations, for example, Rumi says: "I was a divine bird, I became an earthly one. I did not see the trap and was suddenly captured in it."

IA: And Hafiz's way of saying it is: "The dust of my body veils the face of the soul. How can I fly if I am imprisoned in the body?"

In fact, we descend and become one with this body in order to evolve, and by reaching a certain level of consciousness we can actually free ourselves from the material body in this life, even if it is only temporary. At that point, Rumi says, "The heavy soul became weightless and took flight."

P: This great poet and teacher also told his listeners that our souls are originally like fish, utterly at ease in the Ocean of Life, and when they come to earth they are like fish thrown onto dry land, yearning to return to their element.

IA: Here he emphasizes the suffering of the soul in a very harsh way. The agony of a fish out of water is quite visible. The difference is that eventually the fish dies, but the soul continues to exist in a stale of constant agony. However, the word most often used for the desire to return to the source is "longing," which is a milder way of describing it.

P: How does he speak about this longing?

IA: In the beginning of the Mathnawi he talks about the reed cut from the reed bed, which becomes a flute and sings the song of separation. It says: You have to have felt the pain that I have fell to understand what I am saying. Those who look at Rumi only from the material point of view say: "Well, he's really talking about the fact that he was cut off his homeland; he had to leave Balkh with his father before the Mongols attacked Persia, and he had to stay somewhere else, very far away, and always longed for' back there'." But from the spiritual point of view, everyone agrees that he's talking about the soul. This material body, made of matter and mud, becomes a prison for the pure soul, and the soul longs to go back to its origin, to the reed bed.

P: Rumi offers us so many ways to see the body: as dust, as a donkey, a staff, serpent, a mountain, a nutshell, a seed pod. He even describes God as a tailor, tenderly fashioning the human body as a robe for the soul. In that view, the body becomes a gift. And while it may be only an outer husk or a pod, the seed can't be planted without it. Then life becomes a matter of growing back in some way.

IA: The soul is created pure — pure and ignorant. It is sent down to be mixed in with this material world, so that it can evolve and reach perfection. The metaphor for the soul is gold, and when gold is pure, although it is very precious, you can't make things with it. It has to be mixed with some other metal as an alloy so it can be worked into something useful.

According to Nour Ali Elahi, there is evidence in the Quran that in fact the soul, when it descends to earth, has 50,000 years to perfect itself in different successive lives, but the Islamic theologians and most of the Sufis don't talk about it. In some of Rumi's ghazals, you see that he hints about it, about coming back.

In one of the ghazals I have translated, he refers to it in this way:

The one who appeared like a moon
in a crimson cloak last year,
this year he came in a brown robe.
The Turk you saw plundering that year
is the same one who appeared as an Arab
this year.
Even though the garment is changed, the
beloved is the same.
He changed the garment and reappeared.

In another poem Rumi says, "I died as mineral and became a plant," which is pretty close to the doctrine of Ahl-i Haqq which talks about the collective force of the mineral that reaches perfection and goes into plant life, and is then transferred into the animal and the human. Not the soul, not that essence, not the higher self, but the jan or life force that is formed from a group of animals. When finally the human soul is formed in a body, the divine soul joins in. It comes from the breath of God, and by descending into the body it begins the process of perfection.

P: Another image Rumi offers us is of the body as Mary, pregnant with the soul, who is Jesus. But he adds that sometimes the birth pangs never come, and the soul is never born. Presumably, then, the person dies without ever having realized the soul?

IA: Yes. That is when we do not struggle toward perfection. Without struggle, there is no improvement, so the soul remains undeveloped.

Whenever Jesus is mentioned, he is given the title of Ruh Allah after his name. Ruh Allah means the Soul of God. So when Rumi says that the body is like Mary and the soul is Jesus, it makes perfect sense because of this attribute. He is the symbol of purity. Nevertheless, Muslims believe that he is not the son of God. God doesn't give birth, but Jesus is considered the most perfect Sufi.

P: Although the body exists as an outer form, it seems that it, too, is capable of transformation. In one poem Rumi addresses his soul as Moses, in reference to the story of Moses among the Egyptian sorcerers. What does he mean when he says that for Moses, the body is a staff when held and a serpent when thrown?

IA: While the body is held by the spirit, by the soul, it is controlled. Like the staff, it is good and useful. When it is separated from the soul, it becomes wild and violent. The nafs that escapes from control is sometimes pictured as a snake.

P: Our issue is called "Body and Soul," but are these one or two? Is the body separate from the soul? It sounds in a way when you're talking about Rumi that it's one. Once it's been lured into the body and becomes entangled with matter, it becomes inseparable.

IA: Well, it's more like the shell and the fruit inside. They are one, but they are not one. The soul definitely needs the body to develop and evolve, but they are two different things that couple for the short span of earthly life.

You can compare the appearance, the outside, to a shell, that you can touch and see, but the shell without an inside is just a shell. It has no life, no reality.

P: One is perishable and one is imperishable?

IA: Exactly. When a soul leaves the body, the body is nothing, you just give it time and it becomes part of nature. "Let our fragile spirit have eternal life. / The soul lives, the body wears out like a cloak."

P: The celebration of the night of Rumi's death, in Konya, is called the Wedding Night, isn't it? And in the beautiful lines from one of your translations, he speaks of rejoicing at the moment of death: "Tripping on a stone he finds a pearl. /His soul leaves his lips to kiss lips sweeter."

IA: Yes. And there is this other line from Rumi: "When you are left behind, when you cannot walk anymore, travel anymore, your soul continues the journey."

P: Though the body is an instrument for the journey, there's a stage in the journey when it is no longer necessary. But the journey continues. ...

"The day the soul flies in the rapture of your scent / the soul and only the soul will know the fragrance of the friend."

IA: There is a temporary link between soul and body, yet there is also a division. At the beginning of the Mathnawi, we are told: "The body is not hidden from the soul, nor the soul from body. Yet no one, no body, has permission to see the soul."

P: Rumi often reminds us that the form is the outward part, and the essence or soul is the inward. "Soul" and "body" become ways of looking at the world. At one point, before retelling an old story, he declares that the traditional story is the husk and by reinventing it, he is giving his listeners the kernel, its soul. In the Discourses, he refers to the word as the body, and its meaning as the soul. And he describes the outer form of ritual prayer as its body, while its soul is absorption and unconsciousness, which are beyond the scope of the outer form and even exclude it.

IA: Yes, you're talking about surat and ma'na; surat is the appearance or the face and ma'na is the essence. There are other words that also refer to this concept: zahir, what is apparent, and batin, what is hidden.

P: So the soul is concealed from us... ?

IA: Well, in a way, when we don't develop properly and we don't have the ability to see our true nature, we can't see it. An undeveloped person is like a child. Originally, the soul is like a child, and it has to grow.

P: In that process there are "temptations," and at first they are very obvious; the blaming self identifies them right away—whether or not we choose to listen to it. But it seems that as the soul's evolution progresses, temptations become more subtle and harder to detect. That means that we have to become more and more sensitive to the inner meaning of a situation.

IA: Yes, my teacher said that sometimes the nafs may appear as a very wise man, somebody very respectable, and it gives you advice that is ultimately not very good for you, but it is so camouflaged in a cloak of religiosity and spirituality that if you are not careful, you will do what it suggests.

P: In another sense, according to Rumi, the soul is infinite. In its essential nature, it has no boundaries, no limits, and yet as we experience it, going through life, it has stages and limitations.

IA: Time, and space, and that other dimension. We say that, but we don't understand it. We don't know what we are saying when we say there is no time and space. We cannot conceive it with this mind and this rationality.

P: While Rumi sometimes speaks of the body as a sheath or support for the soul, at one point he calls the soul itself a cup. We keep moving into more and more subtle realms, where even the soul, which seems so ethereal, so immaterial, serves as a vessel for the wine of love.

IA: The soul is a cup that can hold the wine of love, which can be interpreted as the essence of God, but this cup is still immaterial.

P: This wine is often associated with the subtle heart, but sometimes Rumi seems to be using "soul" and "heart" almost interchangeably.

IA: The image is that you have to empty your heart. Your heart can be considered a cup full of other things. You throw out everything, you clean it, and then it will be filled with the wine of love. And yes, sometimes heart and soul are interchangeable.

P: One thing that has come through this talk with you is the idea of evolution, that the soul comes down and doesn't return in the same state.

IA: No, if it succeeds in doing what it is here to do, it returns fully aware.

P: Ideally. Or less aware? Is there also a downward movement, a devolution rather than an evolution? You don't go up every time?

IA: While we can regress by creating immense pain and suffering for others and ourselves and even hinder the general evolution of mankind, I think we are forced toward this evolution. All we can do is to slow it down.

P: We're drawn. That's wonderful, that we find our way through an evolution on another scale.

IA: These are the actions of God's love. It is felt in, echoed in, the human being. Rumi says: "The voice of this reed flute is fire, it is not air / and whoever does not have this fire is lost..."

P: The fire, then, is the fire of love, and that is the only thing that carries you.
... You were saying that God is love, and the soul is drawn like the moth to the flame. ...

IA: That is used very often in Persian: the moth that is drawn to the light. And it comes so close that it is burned and becomes part of the flame.

P: In that moment all of the concepts we have been alluding to are annihilated: "Why even think of heart or mind, when the soul itself has fled."

IA: Khamush, meaning Silent, is one of Rumi's pen names. It is ironic that the poet who composed such an immense quantity of poetry calls himself that. But he uses the imperative Khamush! Silence! at the end of many of his ghazals. For him, there is a point past which language cannot go. We are left in silence.

~ Excerpted from Parabola, Volume: 30.3 Body and Soul
Fall Issue, 2005

Saudi King must be rethinking Sura 1:7

I cannot imagine that the Saudi King has been reading my blog, but I am sure glad to read that he is rethinking the meaning of Sura 1:7 and not blindly accepting the traditional interpretation of the Tafsir al-Jalalayn. Eboo Patel, a fellow wayfarer, is asking all the right questions these days:

Saudi Hypocrisy or Saudi Tolerance?
by Eboo Patel

What's the proper response to the Saudi King's speech about religious pluralism at the UN?
President Bush and Secretary of State Rice greeted his words with cautious optimism, as did President Shimon Peres of Israel who said, "I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of our region, of all people."

Other responses ranged from cynical to critical. One Saudi Shia in exile said it was like South Africa decrying racism during the apartheid era.

Imam Moustafa al-Qazwini, an important Shia American leader, wrote in an Open Letter to the UN gathering: "Since the inception of the kingdom, it has institutionalized a systematic and deliberate process to discredit and marginalize its own citizens who follow the Shia belief. From the educational institutes, to the state funded media outlets, and employment the Saudi government has continued its religious prosecution, distortion, and denigration of the Shias."

I am a Shia Muslim, and have heard my fair share of personal stories of Shias being persecuted in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the Saudi government has supported a culture of ill will towards Jews and Christians, really towards anyone who is not a Salafi Muslim. None of these things make the Saudi King the most likely messenger of interfaith cooperation.

But I am choosing to approach this at a slight angle. Sometimes the external articulation of a message sets of a string of internal changes.

Consider America during World War II, fighting across Europe to free the Jews while its own swimming pools and water fountains were segregated. Americans were too smart to stomach their government's hypocrisy for long. The American external message of freedom during World War II played a crucial role in catalyzing our internal Civil Rights Movement.

Maybe King Abdullah, by articulating the central Muslim value of religious pluralism on the world stage, will find the citizens of his Kingdom demanding that he implement it at home.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Call to Action for Iraqi Civilians Lost in the misplaced War on Terror

Click on this link to answer a call to action to the newly elected Obama adminstration to come to the aid of the invisible victims of a misguided and unjust war. Surely this is the Siratal-Mustaqim of those upon whom Allah bestows his Grace and favors.

I would be thrilled if I could play my small part in the reconstruction efforts of the Ummah to
once again achieve a higher level of consciousness and engagement in civil society.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Siratal Mustaqim as the Path of the Soul

This essay from Parabola by a renowned Sufi Sheikh from Turkey could almost be a commentary on the entire al-Fatiha simply because it speaks to the essence of the faith of Islam which is the journey or the path of the soul:


What is the origin of the human being? Most of us attribute our existence to the biological formation of the two cells in the mother's womb and the chromosomes in them. We explain the events of our life in terms of luck or, worse still, we attribute them to our own doing. Yet deep inside we know this is not the meaning of life. We are dissatisfied.

In order to be created, it is first necessary to have the One who creates, and that is the Essence of God. Each human being is a manifestation of the Essence of God. Secondly, the One who creates us must have the will to create us. Thirdly, He has to have the power to create.

The three divine elements of creation correspond to the three divine elements in the oneness of God that are responsible for the act of creation. The first is that the existence of a thing prior to its creation depends on an original existence, an existence within which are contained its shape, its character, its actions, its birth and death, and its destiny. That creative existence is God's Essence, the Causal Mind. The thing to be created must have the potential to receive all of this, and the acknowledgment of this is Divine Wisdom. The second is the acceptance of the created to be created, which is faith. The third is the ability of the created to be receptive to the will of God, which is submission. Thus the trinity in created things is linked with the trinity within the Unity of God, like the relationship between a mirror and the one who is reflected in the mirror.

God said in a divine tradition: "I was a hidden treasure, I loved to be known, so I created the creation." When He was a hidden treasure, He was in a state of Pure Essence which cannot be described, because this state has no words, names, attributes, or likenesses. Before creation, all was a total void, a limitless ocean of darkness which moved when God said: "I loved to be known."When the ocean of Essence moved, from its waves arose the first creation, the first manifestation of God, the light of the Causal Mind, the realm of the word, Pure Essence manifested in its divine attributes. .. .This realm contained the Total Soul, the soul of all the creation yet to come.

Then the ocean of the attributes of God containing all the souls yet to be created moved, by the power of the Pen and the Word, and from its waves were created the realm of spiritual beings, paradise, hell, death, angels, and the rewards and punishments of God. With the wind of God's wish to see Himself, the ocean of the spirits moved and the world of matter was created—the world of suns and stars, minerals and vegetables, animals and human beings. God, in His love, dressed the souls of His creation in the most beautiful shape and form, made out of fire, water, earth, and air.

The four stages of creation were not separate from each other, nor were they created at different times. They were created all at once. When God said "Be," they all became. Neither were they created from nothing, as nothing can be created from nothing, nor can a thing which exists become nothing. All existences, all incidences, come from God and return to God.
God created the human being last as His most perfect creation, in His own image. The perfect human contains all these realms. He is the microcosm, a jewel, pressed from the essence of the eighteen thousand universes. But the human being was created in two parts. God created the human soul from the light of His own Essence, and He created his body from the coarse matter of fire, water, earth, and air, and He blew his soul into him. The soul was meant to be the master, to ride the body, which was meant to serve as an animal of burden. The body yearns for the world because it is made of the same material and eventually will return to it. The soul yearns for God and will return to Him.

The soul traveled through the realm of the Causal Mind and through the realm of spirits and angels and the seven heavens down to the material realm, where it passed through the element of fire, bursting into fire, then passed through the realm of water, which put out the fire, then through earth, turning into mud, and finally exposed to air, turning into dried clay. Then, it grew into a vegetable, then it became an animal, and then it turned into the form and shape of a human being. The jewel of the soul was darkened when burnt by fire, it gathered rust when it hit the water, it was covered with mud passing through earth, and it became heavy and coarse when it came into contact with air. This is the descent, the fall of the human being; when the body dominates the soul, the horse rides the master.

Ascension is possible only when we can reach the soul imprisoned in the body of coarse matter. It cannot be seen with worldly eyes. Truth can be seen only by true eyes, perfection can be recognized only by the perfect. We must shed the weight of the flesh and its desires, attached as it is to this world which pulls us down. Our mind and senses cannot be relied on; with their associations and their imagination, they alter and hide the Truth.

That is why we have different opinions, likes and dislikes. We discuss, we get angry with the ones who do not agree with us. We fight, wage wars, condemn, kill ... sometimes even in the name of truth.

There is but one Truth, one God, one soul. The character of the soul is to love its origin, whom it yearns to meet. The eye of the heart, which can see the soul, may only be opened by love. The eye of the head sees the beautiful and the ugly; the eye of the heart sees only the beautiful. It sees the Truth. If we knew this, everybody else who opposes the Truth, who curses it, who fights against it, would be a part of the Truth. Then we would embrace those people and not condemn them. Love is the only force which can rid us of the crust hiding the jewel and weighing us down. Only it can permit our essence to rise to our original state as the best of creation, as the deputy of God, whom He created in the image of His own attributes, to whom He taught all His divine names, whom He addresses by saying: "I have created all and everything for you and you for Myself."

~Excerpted from Parabola Volume: 20.1 Earth, Air, Fire, Water
1995 Spring Issue, by Sheikh Tosun Bayrak Al Jerrahi

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How do 1000 spectators at a stadium in Somalia understand al-Fatiha if they can perpetrate a communal crime on a fellow Muslim?

November 2, 2008
Sharia in Somalia
Amnesty Int'l says, 13-year old girl raped and then stoned to death

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- A 13-year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants, a human rights group said. Dozens of men stoned Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow to death Oct. 27 in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators in the southern port city of Kismayo, Amnesty International and Somali media reported, citing witnesses. The Islamic militia in charge of Kismayo had accused her of adultery after she reported that three men had raped her, the rights group said.

Initial local media reports said Duhulow was 23, but her father told Amnesty International she was 13. Some of the Somali journalists who first reported the killing later told Amnesty International that they had reported she was 23 based upon her physical appearance.
Calls to Somali government officials and the local administration in Kismayo rang unanswered Saturday.

"This child suffered a horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayo," David Copeman, Amnesty International's Somalia campaigner, said in a statement Friday.

Somalia is among the world's most violent and impoverished countries. The nation of some 8 million people has not ha d a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 then turned on each other.

A quarter of Somali children die before age 5; nearly every public institution has collapsed. Fighting is a daily occurrence, with violent deaths reported nearly every day.

Islamic militants with ties to al-Qaida have been battling the government and its Ethiopian allies since their combined forces pushed the Islamists from the capital in December 2006. Within weeks of being driven out, the Islamists launched an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.

In recent months, the militants appear to be gaining strength. The group has taken over the port of Kismayo, Somalia's third-largest city, and dismantled pro-government roadblocks. They also effectively closed the Mogadishu airport by threatening to attack any plane using it.

Context is Everything!

Helene Shulman, Ph.D and author of the thought-provoking book "Living on the Edge of Chaos - Complex Systems in Culture and Psyche" discusses the relationship between our perceptions of reality and our environment. As I have suggested before our comprehension of al-Fatiha depends on where we are standing (desert sand dune or cosmopolitan city) and our perspective is defined by that contextual location but we have to remember that Islam is a faith for all humankind and that an ethnocentric, whether Arab-centric or Asian-centric, perspective has its own limitations:

"We seem to be left with multiple ways of "constructing reality." The purpose of our models may be less to create homologies or exact replicas of "the real" than to allow testing and feedback about the environment. Each culture, each symbol system, each paradigm is a way to come to grips with the world. Perhaps the important question about each model is not, "Is it true?", since we can never know the answer, but rather, "What does it allow us to do, imagine, predict, work on, change, or cure?" As long as a paradigm works to bring coherence to experience, it is constantly reinforced. Perhaps we are born with some kind of "fail-safe" program to deal with the rare eventuality in which we have to throw an entire worldview overboard.

All paradigms, however, are myopic. They are based on near-sightedness to a greater or lesser degree, because we can only work with the limited portion of the world that is recognized by our culture of birth. When we as humans correct for our perceptual myopia with tools or scientific instruments, we construct our theories within the same cultural limitations, introducing another level of myopia. We can never get rid of the problem of myopia, because it is built into the human perceptual and cognitive apparatus. But we can know it is there and allow it to relativize our certainties. Then we have to become aware that our schemata are context-dependent and that science, religion, culture, and even our personalities are cobbled together out of context-dependent building blocks." (1997, pp. 98-99).

~ Excerpted from "Living at the Edge of Chaos - Complex Systems in Culture and Psyche" by Helene Schulman, Ph.D, philosopher and Jungian analyst in Upstate New York.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Another Rationale for an Ecological Hermeneutic

One cannot recite al-Fatiha and ignore the obvious invocation of an integrated web of relationships between the Divine, the human, and all of creation including all of the imaginal realms, which itself is the central tenet of Islam – the Unity of God, the Unity of Being and the Unity of man.

In “Islam and Ecology” an anthology of essays on the topic, Dr. Kaveh Afrasiabi, director of Global Interfaith Peace, writes a passionate essay entitled “Toward an Islamic Ecotheology” in which he advocates for “(a) a reconstruction of the meanings of key Islamic terms and their inter-relationships, for example, tawhid (divine unity), khalqiyat ( creation), ahd (covenant), amanat (trust), qiyamat (apocalypse) and umma (community) and (b) a deconstruction of those Islamic cosmological, theological, and ethical perspectives deemed untenable either wholly or in part.” (2003, p. 293).

On the other hand, Dr. Abdul Aziz Said and Dr. Nathan Funk, co-editors of “Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam,” in their contribution to this anthology, entitled “Peace in Islam: an Ecology of the Spirit,” their understanding of peace “suggests an ecology of the spirit, an ecology predicated on tawhid, the fundamental unity of God and of all existence.” These authors, consciously or unconsciously, reference al-Fatiha: “Compassion and mercy are integral and oft-repeated attributes of God, whom the Qur’an refers to as al-Rahman, al-Rahim, the Merciful and Compassionate…And God’s mercy extends to all worlds.’ (2003, p. 159).

Al-Fatiha identifies the Lord of the Universe (all the worlds), in some quarters interpreted as “the Maintainer of all Beings,” to whom praise is offered multiple times a day, to the Master of the Day of Judgment, hence establishing an inter-connectedness of Being, similar to the Buddhist concept, with the exception, of course that in Islam, as a monotheistic faith, there is a recognition of a Creator-God.

Ibn Arabi refers to this unity of being as Wahdat al Wujud, finding specific support for it in the second chapter (2:115) of the Holy Qur’an which declares that “Whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God.” But clearly it is also invoked in al-Fatiha as “the Lord of all the worlds”. Hence it would not be inappropriate to suggest that there already exists an Islamic Ecotheology which for the most part in the contemporary Muslim world is in shadow. An integral psychology of Islam would bring this ecological dimension of the faith to consciousness by examining the place of a “macro” or “cosmic” ecopsychology which respects all the imaginal realms, whether directly accessible or inaccessible to the human experience, embedded within the psycho-spiritual infrastructure of al-Fatiha, the very essence of the faith.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Anonymous comment

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post
"I'll take the spirit of Jalal al-Din Rumi .......":
Just wondering...what do you mean by this?

I received the above anonymous comment/question on the Rumi poem which I contrasted with the Tafsir al-Jalalayn. The Tafsir implies that Jews and Christians are misguided. There are more than enough Qur'anic verses to challenge such a commentary. For example:

The Holy Qur'an says in al-Baqara itself in Sura 2:62:

"Those who believe (in the Quran),

And those who follow the Jewish (scriptures),

And the Christians and the Sabians,

- Any who believe in God And the Last Day,

And work righteousness,

Shall have their reward With their Lord: on them

Shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."

Of course, al-Fatiha itself does not mention specifically the Jews or the Christians at all. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn, with respect to al-Fatiha, makes assumptions about the validity of guidance to the Jews and the Christians. Subsequently, other tafsirs have accepted the same misinterpretation.

Rumi's approach was and is much more embracing and inclusive. He focuses on the Ibadat of each seeker:

"In truth, then, God is worshiped by all,
since all wayfaring is for the sake of the pleasure
of which He is the source."

To the extent that Jews and Christians worship the One, they are surely not misguided.
In fact, with reference to The Straight Path
"The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors,"

all the prophets of Israel as well as Jesus are implied in this Surah.
Since the "plural" is used, the verse cannot exclusively refer to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w).

In fact, Tafsir al-Jalalayn itself offers the following commentary on 2:62 which contradicts the commentary on 1:7:

"(2:62) Surely those who believe, (who believed) before, in the prophets, and those of Jewry, the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabaeans, a Christian or Jewish sect, whoever, from among them, believes in God and the Last Day, in the time of our Prophet, and performs righteous deeds, according to the Law given to him - their wage, that is, the reward for their deeds, is with their Lord, and no fear shall befall them, neither shall they grieve..." (2007, p. 9).

I would go further and say that all the sages, saints and mystics of all the Abrahamic faiths, as well as other faith traditions, both male and female, are fully embraced in al-Fatiha.

Thanks for the question and the opportunity to clarify the post.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What is an Ecological Hermeneutic?

To pair the words "ecological" and "hermeneutic" requires that we accept the assumption that the human condition is no longer separate and distinct from our environment. When Islam was first revealed as a wisdom tradition, it was seeded in a tribal desert culture. All interpretations of Islam that originated in and evolved from that culture perforce have a tribal and/or ethnocentric dimension. In the 21st century, as a major world religion, Islam transcends all tribal and national boundaries. It is a trans-national faith in a planetary environment which is ecologically inter-dependent. Be it as a result of globalization which has resulted in an anthropologically pluralistic paradigm or because the survival of humankind requires a deep appreciation of the inter-dependence of all species, plants, insects, animals and humans - the entire spectrum of earth-based and sea-based species - any reality-driven hermeneutic of any world tradition can only be ecological if that tradition is to survive as a living, breathing faith tradition. This requires an array of lenses and perspectives to understand Islam, seriously, as a message for all of humankind and not for just 20% of the world's population.

Hans Kung, considered by some to be the greatest living theologian, in his masterful overview of Islam's 1400 year history, entitled "Islam - Past, Present & Future" surveys the landscape of Qur'anic exegesis, and draws some very pertinent conclusions in a chapter on Critical Exegesis:

"Diversity of approaches and forms

In the twentieth century, new tendencies in the Qur'anic exegesis developed, some of which can be found in classical exegesis, some outside it. The Islamologist Jacques Waardenburg of the University of Lausanne has given an analysis that is both knowledgeable and perceptive. First there are new tendencies in the traditional exegesis of the Qur'an:

- The unique character of the Qur'an, as the final revelation of God and the miracle of the Arabic language, is further intensified by some scholars and preachers, also in the media.
- At a practical level, the return to the sources of Islam, Qur'an and Sunnah, is making a separation from burdensome elements of the tradition possible.
- Reformers are emphasizing the rationality of the Qur'an, which often uses rational arguments and emphasizes the need to acquire knowledge.
- Many interpretations of the Qur'an are insisting on an emphasis on social values such as human dignity, the fight for social justice and the moral aspects of life: human freedom and responsibility, rights and obligations and the need for moral orientation.

New, predominantly practical, forms are arising outside classical exegesis of the Qur'an:

- a strict reforming exegesis, which aims to purify Islam from later forms of popular piety by a restoration of original Islam (such as the Hanbalite tradition in Saudi Arabia);
- a political-activist exegesis, which wants to shape state and society on the basis of Shariah in a 'truly Islamic' way, both from below (for example, the Muslim Brothers) and from above by the establishment of an Islamic state (for example, Ayatollah Khomeini);
- a modernizing exegesis, which wants to orientate individuals and society on the modern norms accepted world-wide and discover these universal values in the Qur'an also;
- a spiritual exegesis, which aims to develop a broad religious worldview, on the basis of mystical experience or a theological metaphysic;
- an even more markedly spiritual exegesis which, with the help of texts from the Qur'an, seeks to communicate a spiritual worldview which goes beyond Islamic teaching and practice and forms communities to match;
- a theoretical investigation which aims to develop new methods of interpreting the Qur'an and its message on the basis of rational arguments, often with the help of philosophical currents.

The first attempts at historical criticism also appeared as theoretical investigations around the middle of the twentieth century, above all in Egypt. Amin al-Khuli (1895-1966), professor of Arab studies at the (later) University of Cairo was the first to put forward the thesis of the existence of different literary genres in the Qur'an, which provoked an enormous scandal. His pupil Muhammad Ahmad Khalafallah (1916-98) argued that not all texts of the Qur'an could be understood in a strictly historical sense; they were primarily addressed to the pagan Arabs of the seventh century. He was not allowed to say this in his 1947 dissertation but that did not prevent him finally from becoming professor at the Institute of Arab Studies in Cairo (from 1958 he worked in the Ministry of Culture).

At the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century a series of pioneer thinkers are working for a contemporary and viable Islam. Some of them are particularly concerned with a contemporary exegesis of the Qur'an: they include the Pakistani professors Fazlur Rahman and Riffat Hassan and the Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush; the South Africans Farid Esack and Abdul Karim Tayob; the Egyptians Hasan Hanafi and Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd; the Sudanese jurist Abdullahi Ahmed an-Na'im; the Tunisian Mohamed Talbi; the Kuwaiti Abul-Fadl. In France the Algerian Mohammed Arkoun and in Ankara several young Turkish scholars are engaged in hadith criticism. These scholars all differ from other Muslim intellectuals by their profound knowledge of the Islamic heritage and from the traditional Ulama by their capacity to interpret this heritage using the present-day humanities - history, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and hermeneutics." (2007, pp. 524-5).

~Excerpted from "Islam - Past, Present & Future" by Hans Kung, President of the Global Ethic Foundation. Until his retirement in 1996, he was Professor of Ecumenical Theology and Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research at the University of Tubingen. This 2004 work was translated by John Bowden in 2007.