Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

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.      

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