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)

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Kawthar

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Shrine of Sayyadah Massuma (a.s), Qum, Iran. A father looking at his daughter. Jan 2016

I have often wondered what it must be like to be a father,
To look at tiny hands clinging onto your fingers,
As if they were to these hands, the very meaning of Love.

I have often wondered, what it must be like,
To love one so much that your heart itself would be
Bewildered by the love it had secretly witheld thus far.

And whenever I would share these thoughts with him,
My brother would always smile and utter these words :
When you become a father, Reza. When you become a father…

And it so happened that my brother himself had a daughter,
And I became in one night, the uncle of an angel named Kawthar.
And that is the closest I have ever felt to becoming a father.

Kawthar,

Ever since you have rested your head peacefully on my chest,
My love, your uncle has never been able to breathe again,
As if forever longing to inhale, the fragrance of your soothing breaths,
As if each one of them came down like raindrops,
Bringing the rugged corners of my soul to life.

Kawthar,

Ever since I have held you in my arms and felt
The beating of your heart pulsating at the rythm of mine,
I have thought to myself, How can I let her go,
It is nearly time. My brother needs to sleep
And I have to go home. But, Kawthar, How can I leave you?
How can we part now. Now, that we had become one?

Kawthar,

There was a day when you were resting on my chest,
And you had started to bite me when about to fall asleep
I had felt the pain, but my face was smiling:
My love for you had won, and so my body had surrendered.

Kawthar,

I have indeed, often wondered what it must be like to be a father,
And now that I had felt a glimpse of that love,
When the time had come for me to part with you,
As I was holding onto the lightness of your being,
When calling for your father to help us part from each other

A sudden pain had taken over me, for my mind
Had busied itself, wandering in the alley of the greatest
Love that had ever existed between a father and daughter.

Kawthar,

As our paths had momentarily diverged, I had now started to ponder
What it must have been like to have been Hussein on the day of Ashura,
To have to part with Sakina. To have to die, before death had even come.

Kawthar,

I couldn’t sleep all night for I could still smell your fragrance on my neck
And whenever I did so, Hussain’s daughter would come to my mind.

Kawthar,

We have often met again and like every time we did,
You would walk towards me raising your hand
As if recognizing my beard and the fingers you trusted.

And whenever you did so, my love, I have thought of a child,
Lost, in a foreign land of desolation, a battlefield of pain,
Running aimlessly, forever looking for the hand
Whose shadow had always given her a reason to live.

Kawthar,

I have often wondered which one of two was the greatest,
The love of Hussain for his daughter Sakina,
Or the pain felt by Sakina when losing her father Hussain.

And as much as I have tried, I haven’t been able to answer this question.
And perhaps that is why, whenever I have met you again,

Kawthar,

My eyes have always shed two very different kind of tears,
One shed remembering a father’s love.
While the other remembering a daughter’s pain.

Kawthar,

I have often wondered what it must be like to be a father
To look at tiny hands clinging onto your fingers
As if they were to these hands, the very meaning of Love.

I have often wondered, what it must be like,
To love one so much that your heart itself
Would be bewildered by the love it had witheld thus far

And whenever I would share these thoughts with your father,
He would always smile and utter these words:
‘When you become a father, you will realize:
Hossein himself will teach you, Reza,
Hossein himself will teach you, Reza.’

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.

 

L.I.F.E and The journey ahead

Montréal Airport, July 2016

Hours before embarking on a journey of knowledge to be aquired, friendships to be made, and moments to be remembered, we often find ourself thinking about the new person we will become after having familiarized ourselves with the new realities we’ve been exposed to

Often while embarking on a journey, whether to aquire formal education, on a business trip, or for leisure purposes, we tend to set standards and goals for ourselves in order to then judge the success of our journey based on them. While these goals can be quantified rather objectively and /or quantitatively for most trips involving a material purpose, the task becomes more difficult when one tries to assess the impact a spiritual trip can have on one’s soul and behaviour. After all, how does one set finite and achieavable goals that can be both realistic and challenging when dealing with the infinity of one’s spirit?

One might say that knowledge holds the key. Any journey involving the study of Islam should primarly be based on knowledge (from a theoretical standpoint), and what one remembers after the journey defines how succesful this individual has been on the path towards light. The more one remembers Ahadith mentionned by scholars, verses cited by and explained, or  lessons from our Ulamas, the more one can be sure that his or her trip has been beneficial.

Others might say that the key is to spark the intelect, to enable our mind to think crticially and assess our realities. That beyond theoretial knowledge that is just delivered, what matters the most is to instigate in one’s mind the capacity to create content, to awaken one’s cognition.

But what if the ultimate goal, the so called destination, although bearing an intellectual component was actually measured in terms of actions and behaviour? What if the proximity of a person in relation to the light he or she seeks could be assessed in measures of ethical enlightenment?

Often in Islamic traditions and cultutre, the question of whether a spiritual journey has been ‘accepted’ (or not) by Allah is tied to the concept of change. I have personally heard countless times how one can judge whether one’s Hajj (pilgrimage) has been accepted or not by judging his or her’s behaviour. If the trip was able to revive in an individual, a desire to constantly watch over his or her action (Muraqabah) such that people surrounding him or her notice a positive change in his or her’s akhlaq and demeanour, than that person can consider that his or her Hajj has been accepted.

From this perspective, the goal that I have set for myself on this journey besides learning, is to let the knowledge aquired to change me in a way that reflects the certainty of the passing time.

To become a living manifestation of Surah Al Asr to the best of one’s ability.

That is perhaps what defines the path of light.

 

Teach Me Patience, Mother

There are personalities whose lives never cease to give. They are like flowing rivers of wisdom, never stagnating, never still, and most importantly, always present and ready to shower your pain with love and warmth.

**

Mother,

I take refuge in the many folds of your love quietly residing in my heart.

I whisper your name,

Lost,

battled,

struggling to navigate in these seamingly shoreless oceans.

I am drowing, Mother,

I cannot breath,

There is no light,

And yet I whisper your name,

For I do not know other than yours,

A name carrying more resilience,

In both meaning and essence.

Mother,

Whenever alone,

and strugling against myself,

I have taken your pain,

as a symbol of hope,

For your pain has always thaught me,

That my strugle is sweet in the mirror of your life,

That my pain is honey in the garden of your devotion,

That my loneliness is a blessing, in the kingdom of your love.

**

Ya Zahra, words were written on your life. Poems were recited on your fate. Your name itself is enough Oh Mother, to bring peace to my heart and to tear it into pieces at the same time.

Amongst the many verses I have heard in your name, Mother, there is one line that has always brought my existence to a sudden end. I whisper this line and I drown, in your love, in your pain:

امشب پرستوی علی از آشیان پر می کشد
داغ فراق فاطمه آخر علی را می کشد

Tonight, the swallow bird of Ali (a.s) has flown away from its nest

The separation with Fatima, has finally taken Ali (‘s life)

They call you ‘Lady without a shrine’. But I swear by your name, you have a shrine in my heart.

None but You

 

Ya Mahdi,

There is none in the progeny of Adam except you, that my eyes have looked for with such intensity. My soul shivers at the thought of meeting you, for if ever we do, Ya Imam, how will my unfaithful eyes gaze towards the very love they have betrayed? Ya Mawla, If it wasn’t for your mercy, I would have no hope of ever seeing you, but I know for a fact that your generosity, by far, exceeds my heedlessness, just like your perfection has always been greater than the imperfection of my soul.

I have looked for you in the depth of my heart and in the infinity of skies. I kept waiting for a sign of yours behind every cloud, at the corner of every turn my life took since we met. By God, there is no wish in my heart that is dearer to me than to put my head in your hands and to join the kingdom of your servitude.

Ya Imam, there are countless reasons why I seek you, and each one of them is mentionned in the beautiful supplication of Nudbah. But if I had to add just one Ya Mawla, I would say that my eyes cry and weep for you for I am an orphan in your absence, and every orphan longs to meet the Ali of its time. I seek you for you are the son of Fatima and only through you can I ever witness the purity of my Lady. I seek you ya Mawla for whenever I read from the peak of Eloquence, I look for the source of its light, and that light leads me towards you. Whenever my soul has longed to witness the presence of Ali, My eyes have looked for You and for the oceans of your love.

I have tied myself to the Quran in this blessed month of Ramadhan, hoping that it would soothe my longing for you. But everytime I open it, the book of God whispers to me, that  it is itself waiting to be delivered by the one soul that will embody its wisdom and give a voice to its truth.

‘There is none but you Ya Mawla, none but you oh Quran al Natiq’

The Story of Little Zahra and The Book of Destiny

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One the night of a long day
A girl named Zahra
Was reading stories of angels
From one of her favorite books
Which her mother had bought
When she was still very little

Zahra was waiting
For her father to come
And to count her stories
Of travellers of the sky

As she kept waiting for her
Father to come, she heard
A little noise from
The window of her room

When she stood up and lifted
The curtain, she saw
An angel waiting in the cold
And asking to come in

She opened the window
And let the angel in
And while the tired angel
Finaly got in the room
He thanked little Zahra
For her kindness and love

Little Zahra was curious
To know who this angel was
And why he had come
To her room on this night

‘Peace be upon you Oh angel,
My name is Zahra and I am
Waiting for my father to come
And to tell me a story’

‘Can you tell me who you are,
And why you came to visit me ?’

‘Peace be upon you little Zahra’
replied the angel with a smile

‘My name is Al Qadr
And I came here today
To tell you a little more
About the story of my name’

‘I am angel from the sky
That visits every child
On the night of their first fast
During the month of Ramadhan’

‘And since today was the first time
You fasted all day long
Allah has sent me to visit you
To hand you a gift
Which you will keep forever and ever’

And from behind his back,
The angel handed Zahra
A book which had on it written:
‘The story of little Zahra
written by herself’

The girl stared at the book,
And decided to open it
And when she realized its pages
Were all empty and blank
She looked at the angel and said :

‘This book is empty, Dear angel
It has nothing written on it
Nor does it have any drawing
How can this book be a story
if it is empty of words?’

The angel smiled at Zahra
And said to her in a soft voice:

‘This book is not an ordinary book
Little Zahra, for it represents
Your life and destiny
It is not a book that you will read my dear,
Rather it is a book that you will write yourself!’

The angel continued
Its talk and said:

‘Each one of us has one, 
And with ours smiles and 
Tears, we write on it
Every day and night’

Little Zahra stood up
And took a pen from her desk
And with a gentle stroke
Started writing on it:

‘Yeki book yeki nabood,
Gheyr az khoda kassi nabood’
‘Some were and some were not
God was there, when others were not’

But to her surprise
The pen did not write,
And the page remained blank

Zahra stood up again
And on an old drawing of hers
Tried to use the pen again

The pen was working fine,
As she drew a star
on this old piece of paper
And with much confusion
She shared her concern
With her new angelic friend:

‘Dear angel, this book is
somehow strange in nature.
My pen writes on old paper
But it doesnt on this book.

If I am the writer of this
Book of destiny,
Why does my pen stop
Whenever I try
to write on its page?’

The angel smiled at Zahra
And told her the secret
that made this book special:

‘This book is indeed
One that must be written.
And it is also true
That it is only yours 
And that You are
Its only writer.’

‘But the secret of this book
Is that you do not need a pen
To write on itself. The ink which
Will darken the color of its pages
Are nothing else than your actions
And thoughts alone and always’

Little zahra was confused
And did not understand what
The angel meant:

‘Do you mean dear angel
that my actions are the words and
The story of this book ?

Do you mean that
my behaviour alone will color 
the pages of my own destiny ?

‘You are right my little friend,
your actions are what will fill
this book with words.
And what you decide to do
Will shape the story of your life’

‘I have another question’
said little Zahra anxiously

‘Every book  to survive
Needs to be opened and read
Will there be anyone
who will read this book
Besides me?’

‘Yes’, said the angel

Just like your babajan reads
Stories to you at night, Allah gathers
All angels in the skies and reads to us
The stories of your lives’

And amongst all the books
Of destinies that exist
Allah only choses a few
To be read and remembered

‘And which are the books
which Allah choses to read
To angels in the skies ?’

The angel looked at Zahra
And said ‘ The books
Which tell stories
Of kindness and Love’

Little Zahra’s eyes

Got enlightened and asked:

‘Does that mean dear angel
That if I remain kind
My story will be read
By God to angels and stars?

The angel smiled at Zahra
And while looking at her
Shining eyes replied :

‘Yes my dear Zahra,
This is a promise from God:
Whenever the inhabitants of earth
are kind and remember Him
Allah himself gathers us 
And tells us to look 
At at the light of their faces’

‘But dear Angel,
I dont really know
How to be kind and loving’

‘What if I think I am doing
Something kind, but in fact
It is not something good’
Said Zahra waiting
for an answer
from the angel

‘How do I know what is
The best way to be kind
So that Allah reads
My story ever and ever’

The angel looked at Zahra
And from behind his wings
He handed her two lights
That together shined brighter
Than the moon at night

He opened Zahras hands
And gifted her these lanters

Zahra took each one of them
And felt an instant kindness
That took over her heart
And as she smiled to the angel

She asked her new friend
The name of these lights

‘These are two lights that God
Has sent on earth for you to understand
How to be kind like He wants,
How to know Him like He is.

One of them is the Quran
And the other is the Ahlul beyt
They will not separate
Till the very day 
When all books will
Be opened and read

We angel keep these lights
In our wings, for they make us
Fly, higher and higher.
But you should keep them
Alive In your eyes, so that they 
Enlighten every dark
Alleys of your life.

And If you follow these lanterns,
On every path you walk
You will shine on this earth
And we will see you from above

And God will gather us
To read your book of destiny
To other angels and stars.

And with these last words
The angel bowed down
In reverance and farewell
And disaperead in the skies
Until he became
As tiny as a star

When Little Zahra
Went back to her bed
Her father finally came
To count her stories
from her favorite book

And as he came closer
He realized that Little Zahra
Had long but gone asleep
with a book in her hand

He soon recognised
The book in her hand
For it ressembled the book
An angel had given him
On the night of his
First ramadhan fast

Zahra’s father stayed all night
Besides her daughter’s bed
Remembering his lord
with a smile on his face

For he had realized
while looking at her daughter
That shes was nothing else
But the most beautiful page
Of his own book of destiny.

تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمْرٍ ‘
‘سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّى مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ 

‘The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter. 
Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.’
The Noble Quran (97:4,5)

Fasting in a jungle of concrete: Experiencing ramadhan in the west.

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New York, Summer 2016

Standing at the corner of one of New York’s busiest intersection right across Penn Station, I found myself contemplating the city like one ends up analyzing a complex composition in a Museum Art Gallery. It is difficult to describe in words the vibe one feels when standing still amidst a stampede of workers, especially right after working hours. But whether you’re from London, Paris, New York or any other metropolitan city that has a business district, I am sure you can relate to what I am trying to describe.

‘Saturation. That’s the word I was looking for. The continuous stimulation of the senses to the point that they cannot relay any meaningful perception to the self, a state where ‘more’ and ‘less’ feels just quite the same.’

With a rosary in hand and making my way out of this concrete mess, I found an oasis of peace in a small park right in the middle of the city. I was fortunate enough to grab a chair and a table and gather my thoughts again. I thought about how exhausting and depleting this walk had been both from a physical and spiritual standpoint and how I thought evolving around areas of extreme density could somehow affect one’s quest of spirituality and balance. If God was to be perceived by our senses, implored with our tongue, sought through our eyes and experienced in tranquility, I wondered if it was even possible to find such a God when the soul was suffocating amidst such an effusion of sounds, lights, motion, conversations, people, colors and emotions.

And because this conundrum wasn’t really a question of ‘if’ such a God could be found but rather ‘how’ such a God manifested in this urban chaos, this led me to formulate the main question around which this essay is articulated: How can one find peace in the absence of peace? How can one find the Unity of Allah in a world seemingly devoid of any harmony? And consequently, given the nature of the month coming of Ramadhan coming ahead of us, how could one welcome the month of Allah, fasting in a jungle of concrete?

Ramadhan and the spiritual geometry

As a child living in Europe, I met a lot of people who would travel during Ramadhan. Most of them would either go back to their home countries in areas vastly populated by Muslims, or they would visit Holy places for Ziarat or Umrah. In both cases, the idea was to ‘experience’ Ramadan and its spirituality, an experience that somehow seemed either impossible or highly difficult when staying in the west.

If one was to visit any metropolitan area of a largely populated city in Northern America or Europe, anyone would argue that this assumption might have been, on the surface level, an accurate one. After all, how could one experience God, and fast properly in a environment devoid of any spirituality per se. How could one experience Ramadhan when when fasting alone at work or amongst friends at university? How could one fast and stay focused on Allah when everything around one’s surrounding, be it people eating in restaurants, ‘not so mahram’ billboards, constant advertisement driving one towards materialism? And pushing the rhetoric a bit further, how could one ever reach any kind of Zohd (islamic asceticism), living in a city which is defined by the absence of it.

Part of the answer to this question comes from a better understanding of our purpose of life and perhaps, from a better understanding of the attributes that surround Allah’s unicity. From a theological perspective, the unicity of Allah implies that he is one and indivisible. And because His existence is not bound to time and space, Allah is everywhere. He is as much present in the Kabah, as He is on wall street. And this realization brings us back to one of our original question : How can one experience God in an environment which is devoid of Him?

If we follow our argumentation, we soon realize that the question we’re asking is a contradiction in itself. There is no environment that is devoid of God. If we’ve established the fact that God is everywhere, the only thing that can happen, is that we might feel that God is absent, but this feeling is a function of the self, of our own imperfection, not of Allah’s absence in any case. Therefore, one must conclude that in spiritual geometry, even if there are seemingly great distances that might separate a soul from its creator, the creator is never far from its creation. We might not perceive him in our vicinity, but even then, he is closer to us than our jugular vein. And from this perspective, there is no reason why on theoretical level, one cannot experience Allah while fasting regularly and following an urban routine we have known while living in a place in which things do not seem drive us towards towards Him.

Now that we have established the fact that Allah is present everywhere and that it in fact impossible to dissociate ourselves from him,  one must conclude that it is indeed possible to fast and attain higher realm of spirituality during Ramadhan even if one to fast in the tallest building of a financial discrtict or any other symbol of capitalism, for it would be against Allah’s Justice to create a Human being at a given time and space and not give him the opportunity to actualize its purpose of creation which is to strive towards Him and his perfection.

The question that remains unanswered though, is how? how could one fast while being fed materialism from the streets? How could one constantly think of the month of God in a society that seems to have forgotten God? How could one pray the the lord of the skies standing in Manhattan, when skies are actually what you couldn’t see?

Of Childhood Memories and The Soul That Rests in Peace

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Warm Zaatar, espresso, and the wooden bench

There is something about memories of our childhood that transcends the realm of common understanding. While adulthood is often defined by a newly aquired sense of emotional stability, a state where an individual always needs greater ‘things’ to get excited, one wonders how can innocent memories suddenly soften our hearts and fill it with a lost sense of satisfaction.  After all, one might ask himself how can the sight of a simple Zaatar, a fresh baguette, a jar of Nutella or a wooden bench bring about such a fulfilling sense of tranquility?

So why is it, that opening the door to these memories never fails to sooth the heart and comfort the soul? Are objects that remind us of our youth the actual carriers of the pleasure we experience when encountering them? Is it the fact that they awaken in us, given memories of specific people that makes our soul at ease with its own existence? Or do they just act as triggers enabling us to consciously acces a greater reality of what our past used to be?

Even though there seems to exist a fundamental relationship between the ‘souvenir’ that was able to trigger the remembrance of the memory that is associated with it, there is a much deeper truth that regulates the pleasure we feel when traveling in the past.

When you think about it, these objects, smells, languages, landscapes or souvenirs do not only remind us of their respective counterparts experienced when we were younger. They more importantly remember us of the state of being we were in when we did experience them in the first place. In order words, we cherish memories of the past not only for what they are made of but also because they remind us of the innocen sweetness  that used to define our lives.

They make us consciously experience the innate sense of serenity that always hovered over our childhood. Most of us were unaware of this faculty we had, to be able to believe, to dream and to live life the way it should be : like an eagle’s  flight over mountainous valley , with no strings attached. And often, it is only when we entered the greyish realm of adulthood, that we realized it actually took a great deal of courage for us to believe the way we did as kids, that we could actually fly and that dreams were meant to be experienced in colors.

Therefore, the pleasure experienced when living memories of the past is perhaps more tied to remembering our innocence more than remembering smells and objects per se. These memories bring us back to a time when we used to live in the present, with a greater sense of certainty, where past and future were abstract concepts which had no significant impact in our emotional and mental state. When you think about it, these memories are perhaps dear to us, because they remind us of a time when our souls were just content enough to experience God the way He should be.

يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً

To the righteous it will be said “oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him”

‘Nafs Al Mutmaina’ or the soul which is rests in peace or in certainty is often refered in Islamic spirituality as the ultimate state where that soul that has successfully completed the Greater Struggle enters the abode of victory and triumph that is the world of tranquillity and peace (Allameh Tabatabei).

Only one who has succesfully reached such a state can actually describe consciously, what it actually means to be free. And although I can only imagine how such a state must be like, I often end up imagining it in my mind as a life spent experiecning the lightness of becoming a child again, while still keeping the intellectual ability to think and analyze   an environment as an adult.