On Rousseau’s Confessions and having time to ‘kill’

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“I’d like you to understand, doctor. I grant you it’s easy enough to choose between a ‘but’ and an ‘and.’ It’s a bit more difficult to decide between ‘and’ and ‘then.’ But definitely the hardest thing may be to know whether one should put an ‘and’ or leave it out.” Albert Camus, The Plague

 

Sometime in September 2002

I remember being around 15 (I think) when I was introduced to Les Confessions from JeanJacques Rousseau. Our French literature teacher had introduced Rousseau as a philosopher and writer and one of the earliest exponents of the Autobiographical genre.

Most of my readings during those years in school, were centered around plays from Molière, novels from Balzac, fables from Lafontaine and other mostly fictional works. Philosophy as a subject was taught when we entered last year of high school so I was never really introduced to non fictional prose within the realm of literary arts, let alone to an autobiography. So the Confessions from Rousseau came to me as a blunt surprise.

My initial reaction was that of a lack of understanding. I felt like there was so much truth and lessons one could learn from fictional novels, from character building, essays on values and other genres I was familiar with that it was hard to grasp why would anyone want to write about ‘oneself’, especially when that person could write about infinite beings, about perfect ideas, about love and hate, about justice and bravery, let alone about God and our human condition.

At times, I felt that only an arrogant person could end up scrutinizing his own life to the degree that Rousseau had, and the whole idea of writing about it seemed like a lack of taste and priority, no matter how much one could value the novelty of the enterprise.

With time, when our readings of the Confessions became more nuanced, I realized that, judging the validity of this genre wasn’t nearly as straightforward as it once seemed. I was still sometimes uneasy reading about the details of someone else’s life and thought, perhaps because I had mainly kept mine to myself and that the very idea of sharing my mental world was a bit like trespassing the perimeter of my physical safe space. Sharing my inner thoughts and fears was to me, like having to partially unclothe myself revealing parts of my skin I wasn’t ready to share with, so it didn’t come to me as a surprise when reading Rousseau felt like watching someone changing their outfit: which can be pretty uncomfortable for both parties, and a quite useless activity at best.

But I also have to admit, that despite the apparent unease I felt, there were also moments when I felt the need of the author to share with honesty and sincerity, significant events of his life. If not to share with others, to at-least write about them, in order to make some sense out of them. I realized that there was, behind the audacity of the work, some wisdom in being able to read with retrospect, about one’s own life, in order to experience the sweetness of nostalgia, and perhaps live again some defining moments, lost somewhere in the alleys of our memories.

April 2019

Somewhere in the north coast of Quebec, in a little picturesque town bordering the Saint Lawrence river, I am now seated in a quaint café. It is raining outside, and for once, I had the opportunity to rest and read. I had time to ‘kill’ as they say, and so I killed it in style, with a reading of the Plague, by Albert Camus.

Reading Camus, or any author associated with absurdism, the description of human plight, the condition of our sufferings and the futility of most of our actions often leads the reader to question some fundamentally and universally accepted truth of our society, which in turn leads one to revisit one’s own life priorities and the impact of past life decisions, on one’s current state.

If one was to ponder just long enough on whatever is needed to happen for a person to be who he or she is, the thought process behind each choices that shapes the evolution of one’s personality, past experiences explaining one’s emotional state, most of us would agree that in many ways, our lives are nothing short of a continuous miracle of play, in which we constantly turn a given potential into reality.

Despite this seemingly straightforward realization, if you were to ask people what best defines the miracle of life and creation, most of us (I am including myself) would the word miracle when witnessing the birth of a baby, therefore associating the magic in our lives to the act of becoming, where one’s existence is defined by the physical coming to being of our flesh into this world. And even though this moment is indeed a marvelous act, a transition that requires tremendous synchrony and order at each and every step of one’s birth, this is not the real miracle of our lives. Or perhaps, to be fair to the complexity and beauty that takes place during our physical birth, this is not the only miracle of our lives, let alone the most important one.

There are many times in which moments I read about touched me more than thinking, pondering, or even witnessing the birth of a child (the narrative of Karbala would be a good example). With time, it seemed to me that I have been more marveled with what seems now as the real miracle of life, which is nothing but our constant capacity to become, evolve, defining ourselves and who we are, at every moment. In other words, the real miracle of our lives is perhaps the freedom we have to give birth to the new selves we wish to be.

Let’s think about it for a minute.  Which one of the two is more marvelous and awe inspiring from the perspective of our human condition, and in the grand scheme of our existence: the fact that all human beings are born from the meeting and fusion of two cells, and the physiological cascade we often (rightly) describe as a miracle? or the fact that we are given the opportunity,  in everyday of our lives, to realize an infinite potential though infinite possibilities, each one leading to a distinct path, a path whose only limit is perfection itself?

Looking at life through the miracle of our infinite potential, one can now better appreciate the lives and choices of the enlightened personalities most revered in our classical religious and spiritual scripture.

This reality is also somehow applicable to even more miraculous birth. I can see the miracle behind prophet Jesus’ (pbuh) birth in that He was born in an unusual manner. This miracle is truly humbling, especially keeping in mind the power of the Creator and the purity of our created prophet. But it seems to me (and I may be wrong), that this miracle speaks more about God’s infinite power in relation to His creation, more than  the miracle bestowed to Human beings in the form of potential. And therefore, what I can relate to better from the perspective of our human experience in the odyssey through which prophet Jesus became who He was as a person: the fruit of his choices, sacrifices, meditation, prayers and devotion, and his constant devotion to God.

Another argument that perhaps comforts me in this reasoning, is the fact that according to islamic tradition, prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the most perfect human being to have ever walked on earth, and that too, despite the fact that from a purely scientific perspective, His birth seems to be ‘less’ of a miracle as the more ‘miraculous’ birth of prophet Jesus, and yet, His life is nothing short of one.

When I read about Prophet’s Muhammad’s (pbuh) life, and I look at all the possibilities and choices that lay in front Him, I often ended up being unable to understand His greatness. With each of His thought, each action, each word,  He redefined the threshold of Human perfection. Each day of His could have shaped him to be another man, a less extraordinary one (I am purposefully not tackling the question of infallibility and Ismah so as to draw more lessons from our prophet’s life) had he not relied on His creator at every moment of his life. His constant will to experience the colorless (see Rumi and the cololess), permanently disidentifying with the finite, always seeking the limitless. If anything, the fact that we all have in theory the capacity to imitate the prophet, in that we can all reach the pinacle of our own (standard of) perfection (see Risalah al Wilayah, Allameh Tabatabaei), is where the true miracle of our lives lies.

Numbers are perhaps also testifying to this point. Bringing into perspective the initial question as to what is the greatest miracle of our lives ie. the complexity of our physiological birth or the infinite nature of our potential,  we learn that during the act of conception, there are close to 250 million male reproductive cells fighting to reach their goal, a journey that scientist define as unique, even by their secular non creationist standards. Out of those 250 million, one will reach first. All other can come second, or third, but it doesn’t really matter. One will reach the goal, and that reality is part of what we call the miracle. But when you think about each cell swimming towards their goal, a programmed and fairly straightforward one, choices that lay before them are pretty binary and limited: you are either the one fertilizing the egg or you are not. That’s actually a pretty narrow choice of fate!

Now on the other hand, we live for close to 27,000 days on average during our lifespan (for a person living 75 years). Each day is comprised of 24 hours, each hour of 60 minutes, and each minutes of 60 seconds. That brings us to 23 billion seconds. During each one of those moments, countless choices are offered to us. Should I reply to this offensive comment? Should I watch this movie right now? What will they say if I tell them I have better things to do? Should I apply to this university program? How will this choice define who I am in 5, 10, or even 20 years? Should I marry this person? Should I buy this house? And these are just incidental questions most of us answer no matter what school of thought we adhere to. Some specific questions about life, death, God  are not even tackled here for sake of simplicity, but one can argue that they would actually add to the choices one has to make in one’s life.

Now, we have to also add that, unlike the rather binary fate of cells navigating through the path leading to the meeting their beloved cooked to perfection egg,  these countless questions are not always answered by a straightforward yes or no reply and have often endless possibilities (the peculiar way in which the life of each one of us seems to have distinct reality from that or others is the best testament of this fact). When you put these facts together, we can conclude, with a fair level of confidence that a human being may be presented in life with an infinitely great number of possibilities each one leading him to become a human being different than if another path was chosen. What this means in the grand scheme of creation, is that each time we answer one of the many questions life puts forth before us, we actively and consciously take part in the actual miracle of creation, a creation defined by the constant becoming of one individual from potential to reality.

Another fact that may make this becoming a more precious aspect of our lives, despite the miracle surrounding every other aspect, especially the miracle of our coming to being, is that the analysis of the odds one plays against to reach that perfection.

We mentionned earlier that out of the 250 million egg seeking cells, only one will be crowned. And yet, despite the odds, science says that there have been close to 100 billion human beings living on earth across all generation. Despite the initial odds, thats a pretty high number.

And yet, out of the 100 billion human beings, there was only one prophet Muhammad. One prophet Jesus, One Moses, One Abraham. So if our physical birth is deemed a miracle considering the odds against it,  one could argue that our the constant birth of ourselves through the fulfillment of our divine potential, is a miracle fewer of us have actually succeeded in.

But what does this have to do with reading Les confessions from Rousseau and questioning the validity of writing about one’s life?

With time, my understanding of Rousseau’s motivation behind writing his confessions have changed. I used to think as mentioned earlier that one should write about infinite  beings, about the absolute, about values and beauty, and that there was so much life beyond our narrow existence that it would seem irrelevant to write about the life of a single man. But when you think about it, is our life anything but the constant defining  of values, of choices, of ethical considerations, of aspirations for the absolute and of infinite possibilities?

Later in my life I was introduced to Russian authors, some of which I have the highest regard for such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. When you read literary critics praising these authors, you often end up noticing a similar consensus. These two authors in particular, are often set apart in a different league, because they best describe subtleties that define our Human nature, the complex balance of our vices and virtues and how they shape the absurd way in which modern societies define success and beauty. Their writing is so realistic that one cannot, for instance, read The Brothers Karamazov without identifying with flaws, vices, struggles and aspirations of at least one of its characters, if not all of them. In other words, it seems that what is actually praised in the writings of these two authors, is the sheer reality though which they were able to describe our Human experience.

So when Rousseau writes about his life, he is writing about what it means to be Human. He is writing about his choices, his weaknesses, and about all those moments in which he chose what to become. All those moments when a yes or no can lead to the birth of a new self, or the perpetual miracle through which our behavior and psyche answers our existential questions.

So if there isn’t, after all, anything greater at stake in our lives, than loosing this opportunity we have to constantly participate in the act of creation, why shouldn’t we write about it?

So should we ever have time to ‘kill’, it would seem to be of a great priority to ponder over our existence, unfolding before our eyes the story of our life, and its constant coming to being, forever learning from our mistakes and achievements, giving a new direction to it that would better suit the reality of its purpose. One should perhaps remember that the greater miracle of creation lies in the act of becoming. For we were all born on one given day, and we completely came out of our mother’s womb in a single moment.

One moment to be given life. And after that lone moment, a lifetime to give birth to our new selves. Understanding the miracle of creation from this lens is a pretty transformative realization. A realization that prompts you to value your time and be very selective in every choice that you do.

So if you ever meet someone who asks you if you have time to ‘kill’.

Run for your life!

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Solitude

It’s been more than a year now that I haven’t written anything on my blog beyond a poem, few weeks ago. And it’s not that I havent felt like writing, not felt the urge to open up old scars on paper like a foil fencer battling  through the maze of its expereiences, making its way to its core in order to catch a glimpse of its inner realities.

I couldn’t attribute the break to a lack of ‘material’ either, nor to a lack of inspiration or to the scarcity of ‘writable’ moments worth immortalizing on paper, quite the contrary. There were actually many times I felt like taking a step back from the pace of life to sit down over a cup of coffee scribble down an idea, a moment, a thought, a memory, a lesson or just a feeling. Interestingly enough, so many changes happened in my life this year that, if I had to choose one of the many years I managed to survive on earth, 2017 would probably be one of those milestone ones, when so many significant events happened that it would be easy for me to look back at my life and say: ‘Ah, 2017 was a special one indeed’.

And yet, despite the urge to write and the many moments encapsulated in my mind that were best suited once manifested into curves and dots, I just didn’t. And when I think about it, it felt as if I was somehow waiting for something to happen. As if the presence or absence of something was preventing me from writing.

Today I realized what it was. Although I feel like I had always known it to be an integral part of a life of writing, I never knew it would be so critical.

The answer was solitude. Plain and simple.

The (same old) Plague

Excerpt from Albert Camus’, La peste (translated in English to ‘The Plague‘) written in 1947:

‘Perhaps the easiest way of making a town’s acquaintance is to ascertain how the people in it work, how they love, and how they die. In our little town (is this, one wonders, an effect of the climate?) all three are done on much the same lines, with the same feverish yet casual air. The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.” Naturally they don’t eschew such simpler pleasures as love-making, seabathing, going to the pictures. But, very sensibly, they reserve these pastimes for Saturday afternoons and Sundays and employ the rest of the week in making money, as much as possible. In the evening, on leaving the office, they forgather, at an hour that never varies, in the cafes, stroll the same boulevard, or take the air on their balconies. The passions of the young are violent and short-lived; the vices of older men seldom range beyond an addiction to bowling, to banquets and “socials,” or clubs where large sums change hands on the fall of a card.

 

It will be said, no doubt, that these habits are not peculiar to our town; really all our contemporaries are much the same. Certainly nothing is commoner nowadays than to see people working from morn till night and then proceeding to fritter away at card-tables, in cafes and in small- talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless there still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good.’

Seventy years have gone by. Same Old Plague.

The Whispered Prayer of Imam Ali (For Spiritual Wayfarers)

“The prayer of Munajat Sha‘baniyyah, attributed to Imam Ali, is a highly regarded whispered prayer recited by all the Imams. It has been mentioned by several great scholars in their books: Sayyid ibn Tawus in his al-Iqbal, Allamah Majlisi in Bihar al-Anwar, Samahiji in Sahifat al-Alawiyyah and Shaykh Abbas Qummi in Mafatih al- Jinan.

[…]

The late Imam Khomeini, in many places and on several occasions, had emphasized the significance of this prayer. In one of his sayings he mentions that whilst there are many important mystical poems and prayers that one can extract from the Qur’an and from the whispered prayers of the Imams, the Munajat Sha‘baniyyah is unique, and that though philosophers and mystics may be able to understand some aspects of these whispered prayers, those who truly understand them have actually achieved a high level of closeness to Allah, with a taste or experience of the prayer’s content. Hence, a wayfarer or a traveller to Allah, who has reached at least some level of what is described in these prayers and has achieved closeness to Allah, can have some grasp of the ideas, although they certainly are not understandable by a beginner in philosophy and mysticism.

Imam Khomeini also says that Munajat Sha‘baniyyah is one of the special whispered prayers to which, if someone pays attention, performs reflection, and follows its advice, that person can reach a notable position and can achieve some levels of perfection. The late Mirza Agha Maliki Tabrizi, one of the teachers of Imam Khomeini, especially in the fields of ethics and spirituality, says that Munajat Sha‘baniyyah is a well-known whispered prayer, and that ‘It contains a wealth of knowledge.’

[…]

Commentary

[…]

The meaning of perfect detachment

O Allah give me perfect detachment from everything, [and then attachment] to you.

Our problem is that we, claiming to be believers (mu’mineen), who believe in Allah (swt), are still attached to many things rendering us not truly monotheistic. We believe in Allah while at same time think people or material techniques we use are independent of Allah. Many of us think that our success comes either from Allah or from the various worldly means. There is a kind of polytheism (shirk) that unfortunately exists in the minds of many believers:

And most of them do not believe in Allah without ascribing partners to Him. (12:106)

The majority of the believers are in a sense suffering from hidden polytheism and this is caused by giving independent positions to creatures of Allah, such as our own efforts, skills, and talents. We think our success will come through the efforts of our mother, father, tribe, party, community, government, doctor, boss, and so forth, and hence we have attachment to many things alongside Allah; we also have an attachment to Allah, but it is mostly in a polytheistic way.

At this point in this munajat we ask Allah to give us completedetachment from everything other than Him. This is not in the sense that we forget, neglect, or fail to properly use other things, or neglect them, or that we live in a cave, but in the sense that we do not put hope and trust in them, and that our hope and trust remains only in Allah. So, we continue to act and behave as reasonable people act, and we do not ignore worldly means and the cause and effect system of the world, but neither do we place our hope and trust in them. Muslims are to strive for excellence. They are to be the best they can in any field they are employed in, whether it be farming, constructing, business dealing, resaerching, or parenting.

We must try to use all the techniques available to us, employ the best technology, methods, plans, while simultaneously doing this whilst knowing clearly that this will not guarantee our success; Our success rests only in Allah (swt). We must not even have trust in our own works, prayer, fasting, or public service. Indeed, we must not have trust in our own righteous deeds, if there are any, or in our good qualities, if there are any good qualities. We should even not have trust in the Ahl al-Bayt as independent from Allah. Our trust is in our Lord, Allah, and this is the true meaning of:

O Allah give me perfect detachment from everything, [and then attachment] to you.

Therefore, we must begin to detach ourselves from what is bad, and then from what is neutral, and then from what is good, and then from what is holy. This is a process of refinement, and anything other than Allah should be left aside. This is pure monotheism (tawhid), to have our hope only fixed on Allah. Once this is achieved, we can proceed and ask for what is mentioned in the next line, because there is a connection between the first sentence and second sentence.

Illumination of the eyes of the heart

Once we are detached from everything, we will no longer be interested in other things. Hence, we first require a proper orientation. Whenever you want to see something, you will require a proper orientation to face the right direction to see that thing. For something physical, a physical orientation is required, and for something spiritual, a proper spiritual orientation is required, which is measured by the orientation of the heart. Therefore we need to ask: what is filling our heart? What is giving it energy? What is making it busy and preoccupied? For what is the heart yearning? That will allow us to understand the orientation of the heart. Hence,we ask Allah (swt) to illuminate the eyes of our hearts:

And illuminate the eyes of our hearts with the light of observing You.

Our eyes are too little to enable us to look at Allah, but there are eyes of the heart that are capable of seeing Him, because this heart is the best thing we have, with unlimited capacity, given to us by Allah, in which He has called His spirit:

So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down in prostration before him. (15:29)

Therefore, this unlimited capacity of the heart renders it capable of looking at Allah. Of course, we cannot contain Him or claim to understand everything about Him, but at least we can have immediate and direct encounter with Him. Anything other than this would be through something else, but it is through the eyes of the heart that you can come to a direct encounter with Allah.

O Allah give me perfect detachment from everything [and then attachment] to you.

But if we reach the stage of kamal al-inqita then the light of looking at Allah should come from Allah Himself and not from anything other than Him. Therefore, we say:

And illuminate the eyes of our hearts.

And the way this is done is:

With the light of observing you

From Reflections on Munajat Shabaniyah, by Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali

 

In the next line, Imam Ali mentions what it is, that the wayfarer lost in the path of God wants to ultimately reach, that which is sought through detachment from anything other than God, and through the illumination of the heart:

Until the vision of our hearts penetrates the veils of light And reaches the Source of Grandeur And set our spirits to be suspended by the glory of your sanctity.

If there was only prayer, one paragraph, one piece of wisdom that I was able to keep with myself through the entirety of my existence; if everything else was to perish, all my faculties lost for good, all my memories vanished for ever. If everything was taken from me or voluntarily given away, my Lord, through your grace and penetrating light, I ask you to let me whishper those words till the end of times and most importantly, I ask you to help me detach myself from anything other than you, to help me penetrate the veils of light, such that I can reach the source of your Majesty.

Note: During L.I.F.E summer course 2016, Hujatul Islam Sheikh Ammar Haider, mentionned that this part of the Dua is one of the favorites of Mystics and spiritual wayfarer, and is one of the supplications Ayatollah Jawadi Amoli recites in his Qunoot.

Witnessing the Night Of Power

If it is asked what is meant from seeing the Night of Power (Lailatul-Qadr) and its pleasure? The reply is that seeing the Night of Power means witnessing, whatever is being revealed during that night, seeing the descent of angels and destination of affairs, exactly as they are seen by the Imam of the Age (Walial-Asr [a]) during this night.

Here it should be briefly explained that Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), has created between the Worlds of Spirits’ (Arwah) and the ‘World of Bodies’ (Ajsam) another world known as the ‘Psychic World’ (Barzakh or Mithal) which neither possesses the darkness and narrowness of the World of Bodies nor has the brightness and vastness of the World of Spirits. It is neither like the World of Spirits which is completely separate and abstract from the darkness of matter, confinement of physical bodies, and limits of quantity, nor it is like the ‘Material World’ which is completely confined into the darkness of matter, confinement of physical bodies and quantitative limits, rather it is free from the darkness of matter, but still is confined to the limits of shape and quantity, it is a world free from matter but with shape andquantity and in itself contains many worlds.

Every existence which exists in the ‘Material World’, in addition to the physical and material existence of his own world, also possesses different kinds of existences in the ‘Psychic Worlds’. And every existence before his being created in this ‘Material World’ possessed relevant existence in the ‘Psychic World’ and before that in the World of Spirits in its appropriate form. In other words every existence, first exists in the hidden divine treasures as has been described in the following verse:

“And there is not a thing but with us are stores thereof.

And We send it not down save in appointed measure.”

– Holy Qur’an (15:21)

From there this existence descends into the ‘Psychic World’ and from there, through divine angels further descends into the ‘Material World’, i.e. whatever exists in this ‘Material World’ was descended from the ‘Psychic World’ and whatever exists in the ‘Psychic World’ was descended from the hidden divine treasures.

Therefore, every human being whatever destiny or gains he possesses, are from these three worlds; although, majority of the people are negligent about their own ‘Psychic’ and ‘Hidden Worlds’, and are not even aware of their negligence, i.e., they neither know about the existence of these hidden Worlds nor are they aware that they themselves the possess existence in these worlds, except those upon whom Allah (Glorious, the Exalted), has bestowed His special grace to recognize them and their selves, and through the path of self-recognition could also recognize their psychic and spiritual hidden existences.

Because the reality of human self is rooted in the Spiritual-World, therefore, from this consideration, the one who has received the divine grace, is able to remove the material curtain from his spirit and self, thus, seeing the self’s reality, without matter, in the psychic from, and may go even further deeper than this stage, whereby being able to see the spiritual reality of his self without any shape. Such recognition of the self is the meaning of the following narration quoted from the Commander of [a] the Faithful Imam ‘Ali:

“Whoever has identified his self in reality has recognised his Creator.”

Therefore, only those who have discovered the reality of their selves in this manner may truly appreciate the link and interface between the self’s identification (khud shanasi) and Allah’s identification (khuda shanasi).

Ayatollah Mirza Jawad Tabrizi, Suluk Al Arifan (Spiritual Journey of the Mystics p72)

Those Who are Thankful

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To be the son of Hussain (A.S) and to lose a father, an imam, a leader like him.

To have an uncle like Al Abbas (A.S) , and to see a warrior, a servant, a lion like him hit the ground.

To have a brother like Al Asghar (A.S), and to see an angel, a rose, a fragrance like him dissipate in the air.

To be the brother of Sakina (A.S) and to witness her grief, her smile, her dreams shattered over and over, and over again.

To have an aunt like Sayyadah Zainab (A.S) and to bear the assaults of laughters, stones and foreign eyes and yet.

And yet,

To have the faith, certainty, and resilience to whisper those words*:

‘The uninterrupted flow of your favors has led me to be distracted from expressing my thanks to you!

The overflowing flood of your blessings has made me incapable of counting your praises. The succession, one after the other ,of your kind acts has diverted me from mentioning all your praises!

The continuous rush of your benefits has obstructed me from spreading the news of your good favors!


***
Has there ever been a love (not the love that is possessed, but the love that posseses) for the beloved purer than this?

I have often wondered about those who worshipped our imams as God, and was amongst those who always thought that out of the two, between considering our Imams as fellow human beings or as God-like creatures (a bit like the concept of Jesus (pbuh) under the doctrine of the Trinity), the former was more logical.

But as times goes on I realize that, the more one falls in love with our Imam, the more one actually falls in love with the truest manifestations of nothing but God. There is so much of tawhid within them that one can easily leave the world of multiplicities, drowning in their universe, not knowing that stopping at the doorstep of Imamah without yearning for Allah, is just another way of living one’s life through  layers of polytheism (shirk). A life that is perhaps lived through a thinner veil and therefore one that is more permeable to light, but a layer leading one to a limited experience of the attributes more than the essense nonetheless.

And to ponder over the matter of Tawhid a bit more, there is one question that often leaves me speachless: Is it possible to experience true and sincere love for the One and only, while failing to do justice to the love one ought to have for God’s  purest manifestations on earth?

**

Ya Ilahi,

I left, looking to quench my thirst for the meaning of Wahdat

I came across the tavern of your wilayah, Ya Sajjad, and have never left onwards.

*from the whispered prayers of the thanful, by Imam Sajjad (a.s)

Black to light

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Imam al-Baqir (A) said:

“There is a white spot inside the heart of each believer. Once he commits a sin or repeats it, a black spot appears inside it. In case of the persistence of sins, the black spot increases gradually in size filling the entire heart with blackness. When this happens, the owner of such heart never returns towards goodness, and this is what God meant in the verse:

‘Nay, but that which they have earned is rust upon their hearts.’

– Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 73, p-361.


I am a black heart.

Darkness is what fills my soul. Each day, as I wake up from the sound of keen sighted birds, soaring towards higher suns, I gaze towards their hovering life, wanting to catch a reflection of the rising sun’s rays on their striking feathers, but darkness is what fills my soul and so my eyes cannot see light.

Imam Al-Baqir (as) said:

“There are three kinds of hearts:

The first type is a reversed heart which lacks feelings for any sort of righteous deeds. Such heart is the heart of an unbeliever.”

Every morning becomes the repetition of a play, all too familiar. I am walking on an icy plain. Each of my steps disturbs the bewitching silence of the north. I can feel the thin layer of ice cracking under the weight of my darkened soul, while my eyes (or what remains of them) are blinded by a thick fabric I had woven myself. I am moving forward, waving my hands like the child I once was, playing an innocent game where I had to find my siblings hiding in the house, all of that, with eyes closed.

And as I make my way on this desolate land, in the absence of any light, any hope, any clue, I somehow know that I cannot settle for this existence. I must move on, I must carry on, for settling here would mean death. Not the ‘death’ which we all have been promised to taste, rather the death which coincides with the absence of a life which we all have been promised to experience.

I am a black heart. Still.

Almost everyday, but not always in the same way. There are days when I am so entangled with my dark side that I cannot differentiate between darkness and my heart. And there are days when I can instantly separate darkness from the absence of light, such that darkness in itself doesn’t seem to have a reality of its own, rather that it has taken the space left empty by the true owner of my heart.

There are even moments when I am the least black in my blackness. Moments so unexpected and brisk they never fail to catch me off guard. Whenever they occur, they seem to emanate like a prophecy, from a higher realm, but at the same time, always leaving a deeper and more perpectible mental remnant of themselves, as if to make sure I would not question their fleeting reality, like the fragrance that stays long after all petals have fallen.

And in those quiet, somehow hardly moving times, I can consciously grasp my dark side and acquaint myself with its feeble and fleeting nature but in a way that I cannot really articulate in words and perhaps even less comprehend in thoughts. When the trance vanishes and I am again left battling my way in the many folds of my darkness, a bittersweet realization strikes me: I have lived a lifetime shrouded in my darkness’ somehow comfortable misery and yet, I know that there is more eternity within me than the transient hollow it had fed me with thus far.

The hadeeth continues:

“The second type is the heart which contains a black spot in which a war is being waged between the truth and falsehood, and whichever becomes victorious will take over the heart’s control.”

I am black heart.

But today was different. I was still lingering in these endless icy plains, battling my hands in all directions, as if to deceive my soul that I was somehow aware of where I was heading. But amidst the repetition of a passive existence that had become all too familiar, I felt a spark wavering in my vicinity whose presence I was most uncertain of. I did not know where it arose from, and more importantly how my darkness had been able to feel it.

‘My eyes were blinded, and my heart was dark’. And yet, there was a spark; and the more I tried to get my soul accustomed to its warmth, striding towards where I thought its sound had come from, the more its quivering oscillation was turning into a continuous beam of light.

I am still a black heart.

But it seemed that not all black hearts are the same. My tone of black had changed. I was now consciously black, which is perhaps the least black one can be. I was still dying, but I was now aware of it. And that had made all the difference. I was still battling, still panting, floundering against the wind with my fingertips in order to hang unto that beam of light, but now, I had a purpose, and that purpose gave me what I had unknowingly searched for all along; it gave me hope and a reason to survive another day.

I am (not quite) a black heart.

But not entirely. My core was shaken. It only takes a raindrop to ripple through an entire ocean they said. It was hard to believe, but it was true nonetheless. One drop against an entire sea. One spark against decades of darkness. Numbers didn’t matter, just like size did not. What mattered was the essence. Motion had always trumped stilness, and light, light had always outshined darkness.

I am (not really) a black spot.

But that is not my reality. There was enough light for me to have an intrinsic knowledge of where I stood. My eyelids which had been resting for far too long on their self erected tombstones were now peeking through the fabric, which in turn had become thinner, and more permeable to light. I was feeling lighter, despite not quite flying yet. I could sometimes feel the grass, under the melting snow. And for once, in the longest of time, the peculiar absence of fragrance winter had effortlessly carried in each of its folds, had now vanished, giving way to subtle and transient scents of life.

I am (not quite) light (yet).

But I am not darkness either. I am the constant swaying of my desires oscillating between hope and despair. I am part light, part absence of light, such that my reality changes every day, if not every minute, with each and every choice that I make consciously (enough). There was a battle taking place within myself. Thoughts clashing against each other, actions constantly fighting over the throne of my existence. And amidst the deafening concert of their clashing swords, I stood calmly on a hill overlooking my past, present and future. And then I knew where home was.

Home, I thought.

Home is where I choose to become what I wished. The place where one is able to carry on towards higher realms of existence. Home is where the battle is won for the sake of one’s own self. Home is where one ought to be at any given time in one’s life, such that one’s home today would be different from one’s home tomorrow.

And when I turned back overlooking the icy valley which I had just crossed, I heard the sound of keen sighted birds, soaring towards the setting sun. And as I gazed towards their hovering life, wanting to catch a reflection of the dying sun’s rays on their striking feathers, a silhouette of their flock was now peacefully floating over the sun’s horizon such that their flapping wings kept bringing me from darkness to light.

I kept looking at these birds until they disapeared in the clouds. And when I was left alone with the sun, I knew my exile had ended, for I had now reached home.

For Home is and will always be, that one place when hearts ascend from darkness to light.

The hadeeth ends:

The third type is the conquered heart in which there is a lighted lamp which is never going to be turned off. Such a heart is the heart of a believer.”

(Bihar ul Anwar: Vol 70, page 51)

Brotherhood or A father’s letter to his son

Dear peace of my heart,

I have been waiting for this moment to come from the day I have held you in my arms. I still remember the look of yours when you first hold my finger, clinging onto the only soul you trusted back then.

Ever since you have entered my life dear Son, I have always tried to learn from you as much as I have tried to teach you what I had learnt from my father. You have been a good son and by Allah I swear that I will stand on the day of reckoning as a witness over your deeds and will testify that you have always been kind to your mother and me and for that I will pray that Allah rewards you justly.

You are a successful young adult in the eyes of the world and you might not need any advice from an old man like me. You have seen many more landscapes than I did and have achieved in this life many more accomplishment than I ever wished to dream. You have turned into gold whatever you have touched and for that you should always be thankful to Allah.

However, despite being a mature individual, one that knows how to sail oceans of life, there are many, many lessons of life that you haven’t learnt yet, for they are not lessons that one learns in an academic setting.

Life, my son, is not as relatable as it seems. You have been blessed to have parents that cared about you and a family that looked over you, that stood before you whenever a hardship would befall over you to protect you and your faith from temptations they could not have handled back then. You have lived amongst your parents, in a house that was blessed by the remembrance of Allah and that in itself, has enabled you to blossom the way you did.

You are now about to leave Home, in order to acquire further knowledge and there is not greater pride for your mother and I to have a son like you, a son that wishes to act upon the Prophet’s saying (pbuh) to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.

As you embark on this journey of self-discovery, your mother and I would like to give you a piece of advice:

A moment will come in your life,
Perhaps, more than once,
Certainly, often enough,
When you will be lost,
You will be battled,
You will struggle to navigate
In these seemingly Shoreless Oceans.

You will look for yourself and for your Lord
But life will seem to you
Like a desert devoid of any meaning.

You will often drown,
People will come and go,
You will be questioned,
You will be tired,
And more importantly,
You will tested.

Hardships are a reward from God
And only a manifestation of his trust
And while these hardships will befall on you
And you alone,

Allah in his infinite compassion
Will bless you with a light,
That will guide in the darkest of nights.

My son,
Whenever you find yourself,
Lost, battled, drowning, buried and forgotten

And see a shining face,
Whose mercy reminds of Muhammad,

A helping hand,
Whose secrecy reminds you of Ali,

A sincere eye,
Whose patience reminds you of Hassan,

A radiant smile,
Whose certainty reminds you of Hussein,

A silent worshiper,
Whose prayer reminds you Al Sajjad,

An enlightened scholar,
Whose knowledge reminds of Al Baqir,

A voice whispering you secrets
Whose truthfulness reminds you of As Sadiq

A calmness of being,
Whose forgiveness reminds you of Al Kadhim

An undying love,
Whose generosity reminds of Ar Ridha

A certainty in faith,
Whose piety reminds of Al Jawad

A light of guidance,
Whose clarity reminds you Al Hadi

A content soul,
Whose hardships reminds of Al Askari,

And most importantly,
If you ever meet a patience,
Whose destiny reminds you of Al Mahdi,

If you ever meet such an individual my Son,
Be known that you will have just met the greatest gift of God.

Do not worry about finding this soul my son,
For wayfarers in the path of God are always looking for one another,

When you will meet this sincere heart,
Be known that he will look for you as much as
You will have looked for him.

He will be pleased to be in your company
As much as you will be pleased to be in his.

You will both rise together,
Forever unveiling shadows
That separate you from reaching
The light upon light.

I was blessed my son to have met
Many of these souls in life,
Sincere lovers of the prophets whose
Morality have always reminded me of Allah,
And whose conduct has always reflected the Quran.

When you will meet such a soul my son,
You will ask yourself how to call it.
Society will tell you to call it a friend,
A neighbor, an acquaintance,
A companion, a confidant,
Schoolmate, a classmate,
Or a study partner.

But deep within yourself,
You will hear the voice of a Lady,
Whose utmost purity,
No shrine could ever withstand.

Yes,
Az Zahra (pbuh) herself will speak to you
And will tell you,

That there is only once word
That unites in faith
All lovers of Hussein
Wherever they are
Whoever they are,
Whenever that is,
In the meantime,
In between time,
Forever and ever.

And the only word
That Allah himself has deemed
worthy to describe this bond
Is the word ‘Brother’

 

My only request regarding this letter, my dear son, is that you keep it with you and read it whenever you feel the need. And when Allah himself blesses you to become a Father, and your own progeny becomes as worthy as you are today, remember to teach them this truth, even if it is the last thing you will ever teach them.

I will leave you my dear Son, with these words of wisdom, hoping that you will meet in your quest, other sons of Zahra as you will come together and strive in the path of Allah while remembering The Hussain of your time.

Your loving Father,

Father.

I would like to dedicate this letter to all my brothers and sisters of the KLC family and more importantly to my esteemed teacher Dr Shomali whose dedication alone is an unspoken lesson of humilty. I have chosen the word ‘brother’ because it reflects better my own reality. However, ‘brother’ in this context is not restricted to the male gender as its essence can be found just as equally in sisterhood for sincere women wayfaring in the path of Allah.

With those who know secret things

L.I.F.E Intensive course. Summer 2016 Chicago

“It is befitting if an individual spends half of his life searching for insane kamil (one of the special friends (awliya) of God)”

What is it that one  feels when meeting for the first time, the person that in your eyes, is the closest manifestation of an Awliya?

I have asked myself this question several times, and I often find it difficult to come up with words that might give justice to the sweetness one might feel when finally meeting a person that mirrors the essence more than the multiplicity. When I think about this question, I often end up picturing Allameh’s first meeting with Seyyed Qadhi. I wonder what pleasure must have overtaken Allameh the when he finally laid his eyes upon the physical manifestation of his suluk to come.

Everyone’s spiritual journey is unique, and from this perspective, an awliyah can perhaps be defined in terms relative to one’s station of Marifat. From this standpoint, a person whom one will consider to be an awliya (as a generic term) would be one whose behaviour best mimics the demeanour of the prophet in light with the Sunnah and the Quran with regards to his or her’s own knowledge and spiritual awareness. In order words, when you meet someone whose etiquettes and morals almost instantly reminds you of Allah and who is willing to share with you, some of his or hers knowledge of the path, you have met the bridge that might help you go through the various layers of multiplicity.

‘I have met eyes that knew about tawhid much more than I have ever known. I have met smiles that revealed secrets. Meeting him was the sweetest thing that happened to me. Our encounter reminded me of Rilke’s verse*, and for the first time, it was more about being with those who know secrets than being alone. Alhmadullillah.’

*I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.