Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Monday, May 27, 2013

A contemporary translation of al-Fatiha

In the name of the Beloved One,

The Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful.

All praise is due to Allah, the Sustainer of all the Worlds,

The Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful,

The Sovereign of the Day of Resurrection.

Thee alone we worship and to Thee alone we pray.

Guide us to the Straight Path
of self-cultivation to the Gardens of Paradise,

the path of those upon whom
Thou hast bestowed blessings, favors and Grace,

not of those who are consciously or unconsciously immersed in Sacred Chaos,

Nor of those of who have lost their way.

~ Rendered by Dr. Jalaledin Ebrahim

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Finding the Love in Islam

I often wondered, sometimes with anguish, where the place of Love was in Islam. Not finding many references to the word in the Qur'an, it was illuminating to discover the implicit meaning of Love found in al-Fatiha. Here is an excerpt from the literature review in my doctoral dissertation:   
"The fifth and final monograph is a mainstream Shia exegesis which includes a tawil approach by Reza Shah-Kazemi, a contemporary scholar at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England. He devotes considerable attention to al-Fatiha in Spiritual Quest – Reflections on Qur’anic Prayer according to the Teachings of Imam ‘Ali. He describes a number of epithets used for al-Fatiha which “express its crucial status as embodying the quintessence of the Qur’anic Revelation” (2011, p. 15). These epithets include “the Mother of the Book,” “the Healing,” “the Foundation,” “the Prayer,” “the Sufficient,” “the Treasure,” and “the Light.”  Shah-Kazemi examines the structure of the seven sacred verses and imagines these as “so many rungs in a ladder descending from the divine to the human” (p. 16). In analysing Imam ‘Ali’s claim that everything in the Qur’an is contained in al-Fatiha, he suggests that the seven verses are a synthesis of the Qur’an and that “the Qur’an is the Fatiha exteriorized, the Fatiha is the Qur’an interiorized. For the Muslim who is attuned to the totality of the Qur’an, therefore, each recitation of the Fatiha renders present -- potentially, virtually or actually – the quintessence of everything that the Qur’an teaches by way of revealed truth, and everything that it constitutes by way of sacred presence” (p. 17). This clearly attests to the foundational nature of al-Fatiha to a formulation of a psychology of Islam.
     Shah-Kazemi interprets the first three verses within the context of a shift between the theological tawhid (al-tawhid al-uluhi) confessed by the ‘folk of the outward’ ( ahl al-zahir) and the ontological tawhid apprehended by the ‘folk of the inward’ (ahl al-batin), who “see through the multiplicity of created entities and affirm the sole reality of God whose oneness is not of the numerical order, but of an ontological nature” (p.21). There is nothing that is not contained in the transcendent and immanent divine principle. Shah-Kazemi then returns to the first verse, the Basmala and reminds us that the principles of mercy and compassion are integral to the absolute reality of God. Both principles are identified with the quality of love: “Now, the Rahma of God is here defined by reference to a quality which all can recognise immediately as love, rather than simply compassion or mercy, “(p. 21) such that the essential nature of ultimate Reality is an “overflow of infinite love”.
     Shah-Kazemi uses two metaphors for Rahma: it can be viewed as the water of the spring of the Basmala which becomes the river of al-Fatiha flowing into the ocean of the Qur’an. And it can be thought of as the womb, rahim, of the Mother, “which contains within itself the entire cosmos” (p. 24). Here we begin to glimpse an ecological hermeneutic and the re-emergence of the feminine principle in Islam.
     The eschatology of Islam is explicit in the fourth verse. But Shah-Kazemi’s interpretation is now offered within the context of the loving mercy of the “King of the Day of Judgement” (p. 26) as a forgiving God. His anger, then, “is but a word describing the extrinsic consequence of a lack of receptivity on the part of man to the mercy of God” (p. 29) and, as such, these extrinsic consequences are contingent on human sin and a way to rectify any disequilibrium. It is by virtue of this rectification, and restoration of balance or equilibrium, al-mizan, that the sinner is able to return to God.
     In the fifth verse, the principle of tawhid is expressed in the act of worship such that the experience is one of emptying one’s self through humility in order to acquire the peace of the soul that surpasses understanding, or the soul at peace, al-nafs al-mutma’inna. Those who have achieved this level of spiritual perfection have no need to wait for the Day of Judgement. They no longer seek Paradise nor fear Hell. They pray on account of the plenitude and a celestial degree of serenity with which they have been graced. These are the liberated souls, al-ahrar, and the ones who have understood the ultimate reality of God, the fuqaha. Imam ‘Ali “describes these true fuqaha as being those ‘whose hearts are in the Gardens [of Paradise] while their bodies are at work [in this world]’. The body of the saint ‘works’ in this world according to the disposition of a heart which is inspired not just by its vision of Paradise, but by its presence in Paradise, a spiritual presence which is permanent for the saints...” (pp. 34-35).  
     Based on this level of interpretation and commentary of al-Fatiha, one can expect a more ecumenical approach to the other Abrahamic faiths. Hence guidance upon the Straight Path is not restricted to Muslims but on the contrary includes all those who have walked in faith and virtue, especially those who have been graced with God’s blessings and favours, which refer to their gifted faculties of apperception of the Ultimate Reality. This is not so much the path of straightness and moral virtue but the path of the return straight home. Hence the wrath of God refers to the experience of a lack of receptivity “to the loving mercy which perpetually radiates from the pulsating heart of ultimate Reality” (p. 37). For Shah-Kazemi, those who are led astray reference those who have not exercised human responsibility and free will in alignment with this constant source of Divine radiance.
     In an earlier monograph titled My Mercy Encompasses All, Shah-Kazemi notes that in al-Fatiha “God’s Anger is not specifically mentioned in the last verse; it is those who are the objects of anger, those who elicit anger that are being referred to; the subject of the anger can be either God or the soul or both, the one being an aspect of the other” (2007, p. 9).  In the same text the author acknowledges the limitation of ignoring the severe and wrathful side of the Qur’anic message recognizing that the over-accentuation of “one element to the detriment of the other distorts the integrity of the message and diminishes the psychological impact of the text as a whole upon the soul” (2007, p. 24).  Whether the Wrath of God is an actor in al-Fatiha or whether it is incurred by his creatures, the fact remains that the Wrath of God or Divine Displeasure is present in some grammatical form and must be included in any psychological hermeneutic precisely because it impacts the human psyche.      

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Illusion of the Golden Age of Islam


It is Freud's birthday today! He gave those of us in the field of psychology many enduring gifts including the connection of our dreams to the Unconscious, the identification of multiple psychological defense mechanisms and the concept of countertransference. Below is an excerpt from the literature review on Freud in my doctoral dissertation:

     In The Future of an Illusion, Freud (1856 – 1939 CE) describes religion as an illusion. He differentiates between an illusion and an error, by noting that what is characteristic of illusions is the move towards human wish fulfillment. He adds, however, that, "illusions need not necessarily be false." (1964, p. 39)  One might ask whether there is a correlation between an illusion, a weltanschauung and an imaginal space, especially for the kind of  Dar al-Islam envisioned by Caliphal Islamists.

     Fethi Benslama, a contemporary Tunisian psychoanalyst who teaches at the University of Paris, discusses the unconscious and stealth nature of Islamism and suggests that the Islamists are haunted by, what he refers to as, “the torment of origins” in Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam, as translated from the French by Robert Bononno: “Its proponents gradually succeeded in attracting the masses through a promise that did not hold any expectations for the future but, rather, incorporated a regression to some distant past, when time was an identical repetition of what had already taken place during Islam’s foundation” (2009, pp. 9-10). The language of al-Fatiha and the project of Monotheism is similarly an invocation of the past, and a focus on the Hereafter. The use of the temporal and spatial past tense, and the vision for a non-terrestrial future, in contrast to the present moment of worship and supplication, needs to receive serious examination.  The significance of Freud’s examination of illusion is that it captures the essence of the longing for a recapitulation of the Golden Age of Islam and a myopic vision of Paradise, which drives those engaged in or celebrating global martyrdom operations. 

     Freud traces the origins of religion to totemism. For Freud, the individual is essentially an enemy of society and has instinctual urges that must be restrained to help society function, because human nature is anti-social, rebellious, and has high sexual and destructive tendencies. The equivalent notion in Islam to these instinctual urges is the nafs ammara, the tyrannical self, about which more will be expounded later in this chapter, within the context of Sufi psychology. So destructive is human nature, Freud claims that "it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends." (1964, p. 8)  How these individuals acquire such qualities of leadership and values is not explained in this text, but Freud clearly sees the need for exemplars and models. Freud comes to terms with the enduring impact of leadership in his final work, Moses and Monotheism. He even proposes that a “great man influences his contemporaries through his personality and through the idea for which he stands” (1967, p. 139). It is unclear how Freud would rationalize the fact that the personality of such a leader can be, and historically has been, inspired, not just by an idea of God, but by an encounter with the numinous manifestation of the Divine. Freud instead argues that religion develops as the emphasis on acquisition of physical objects and the satisfaction of instinctual drives (sex, wealth, glory, happiness, immortality) moves from the material to the mental. As compensation for good behaviors, religion promises a reward. For Freud, there is nothing intrinsic in human nature that would inspire individuals to act with nobility. Nevertheless, Freud does recognize the role for leadership, and al-Fatiha refers to the role of the religious leadership of humankind to set the civilizing example that is called for, even if it, too, may only be a shared human wish by many.

    Religion is rooted in the Oedipus complex, and represents man's helplessness in the world, having to face death and the forces of nature. Freud views God as an infantile longing for a father. In his words "The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them" (1964, p. 19). Islam’s loss of the Prophet as the father and its central authority figure caused much confusion and disruption for the umma, as noted earlier.  The root word for umma is umm, which means Mother. It is the umma, without a father, which is now left to provide the maternal nurturing and nourishment to all those who have been orphaned by the Prophet’s departure. But the umma is, and has always been, in disarray and fragmented. The very unity of the umma, which represents the One Soul from which all humanity continues to be born, is in doubt.

     Freud’s 1929 essay on Civilization and Its Discontents is a penetrating summary of the views on culture from a psychoanalytic perspective. As an atheist, Freud could not have accepted or fully grasped the civilizing mission of religion but he did not fail to see it as a human mission: “I was led to the idea that civilization was a special process which mankind undergoes, and I am still under the influence of that idea. I may now add that civilization is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind. Why this has to happen, we do not know; the work of Eros is precisely this” (1961, pp. 81-82). But it is clearly also the mission of pan-Islamism to unite humanity, although it is founded on a distorted aggressive interpretation of the original message of Islam, which strove for a Pax Islamica in service to Eros. The Eros in Islamism is perverted to a form of religious supremacy.