The promise I made with my soul in Qum.

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Often in Islamic traditions, narrators have mentioned that the virtue of a believer can be measured by his truthfulness. A believer is one, whose words are true and one who acts upon them. From that perspective, one can somehow deduce that a believer is one that fulfills promises he has made to others. A very relevant hadith from Imam Ali (AS) that somehow validates this assumption mentions that ‘the fulfillment of promises is the highest form of integrity’.

Shrine of Sayyah Masoomah, Qum, January 2016

The night is long only for those who do not understand its sweetness. And it is the shortest for those whose time of parting from their beloved has arrived, bearing a distinct taste of unfulfilled promises.

I wonder what promises to the self are worth. Those words uttered in your heart that no one except yourself know, what are they worth in the eyes of God? If the integrity of a believer is measured by his capacity to act upon commitments made to others, what can be said about pledges a believer makes with himself ?

Standing near the vicinity of Sayyadah Masooma’s Zarih, I keep staring at the outer dimension of believers coming in and out to convey their salutations to the Lady of Qum. Each one of them must be bearing a request. Some must be longing for marriage, some must be asking for a blessed child, some students must be seeking guidance in order to achieve a better understanding of the holy scripture and here I was still thinking about how to best formulate what lay in my heart.

I sat down on the cold marble floor and took a rosary in hand. I kept reciting the same divine sentence that has always brought about a sense of serenity and certainty whenever I felt the unbearable weight of my soul’s nothingness would fail to elevate me towards higher realms of spirituality.

 

….And Allah is the best of planners.

….And Allah is the best of planners.

….And Allah is the best of planners.

Surely, Allah knows what lies in our heart. And surely, he must have been aware of this conflict that was growing within me, one that my intellect alone could not seem to process and integrate. And how could it ever pretend to do so? How can a mind that has been trained to critically analyze information flowing from its environment, assess realities from tangible experiences which can be measured and repeated, and most importantly, act according to known concepts limited to the physical existence, how could such a mind ever understand matters of the heart? How could I use my mind to formulate realities it couldn’t even grasp?

Often, when you see yourself walking on the path of your past experiences, you tend to realize that most of your decisions have been either predictable or following an intelligible scheme. That reality is a fact for most of us, and when you ponder over it, there seems not to be anything wrong in it. We are bound to a physical world regulated by predictable laws and since we ourselves possess a physical dimension, the only dimension through which most of us identify ourselves with, we end up embodying laws of the nature. Like gravity, we fall when we lose hope. Like forces of magnetism we let our nafs drive our bodies towards its lowest level of existence, a station in which we end up making our desires to be our master.

Yes. It seems a plausible explanation. It is because we end up living our lives only through its physical reality that we end up living lives that are in most part, as predictable as laws that regulate the world we live in. Much of the truth that lies in this explanation is also applicable to our mind. We think through the information that is conveyed to us by our limited senses. We see through the optics of our eyes, which can only perceive a narrow spectrum of visible hues. We hear only that which can be heard. And yet, despite knowing how fallible our senses can be, we deny any other source of inspiration to enlighten our soul and in doing so, we perpetuate our enslavement and negate our soul its most fundamental right: the right to be free and to experience the light of its creator.

And this is where my restlessness laid. My physical reality was somehow aware that its supremacy was now questioned and that the pen with which it had so far effortlessly written my own destiny was about to change ownership. This transitional phase was characterized by smooth handover of power between the mind and the spirit. I was about to make a promise to myself that could not have been predicted from the path my life had taken so far.

When you end up acting upon a spiritual inspiration, one that does not follow popular logic and expectation, it is better not to share your position with just anyone for they will fail to grasp its meaning, and will convince you to continue acting upon your physical reality.

Upon my return home, I took some time preparing the grounds for the day when I would go back to Qum and write in cursive letters and endless spirals, using an alphabet that best suited the loftier realms my soul was aspiring to reach.

With time, I mentioned my plans to my close friends and family. Some understood, and some did not. I became used to judgmental sighs and sarcastic smiles blooming out of some of their shortsightedness.  They were used to a predictable way of life, one that explained their inability to see beyond the comfortable familiarity of their repetitive age-old cognitive processes.

When I thought about it long enough, it was not their choice to live a life confined to what was expected of them, which made me uncomfortable. What was however stranger and somehow frustrating, was the fact that eyes which had fed only from the sneaking twinkling light perceived from the tunnel of a narrowed existence deny the need of others to want to fly to the moon and stars.

The frustration laid not, by any means, in their self imposed celibacy with their own destiny and the fulfillment of their own existence. What was depressing however was their inability to understand that beyond living a life when one exists only through the approval of foreign eyes laid a life that did not happen, but that chose to become.

And in order to experience this gift, which everyone has not only a right to experience but also a duty to do so, one must rise above those judgmental sighs and sarcastic smiles and climb the mountain of their own fears and doubts in order to be bewildered by the infinite depth of their own imagination.

Like every one of us, I am not immune to doubts, and often, when I question my own capacity to act upon the promise I made with myself when I took Sayyadah Masoomah as a witness in front of God, I often think of the following words

 

Rise!

Rise from your ashes and

walk on the dust beneath

which you will sleep forever.

Stare!

Stare at the sun

And fly towards light for

There’s no truth in shadows.

And above all,

Do not!

Do not judge yourself in measures

Foreign to your soul!

You were made out of light,

And only light can carry you higher.

 

Indeed, a believer in one who fulfills promises. And the most important promises of all are those, which are made with the self. Those promises do not rely on spoken words just like they do not need the presence of another human being in order to exist. Promises made with your soul are unique for they will live on as long as you do. And since your soul is eternal, those promises shall never die.

I would like to thank the organizers of the Bab Al Ridha course 2015 as well as my teachers and mentors during my stay in Qum, all who have been critical in my spiritual growth and in the realization of those promises I made in Qum.

 

 

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The Light of His Name.

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Writing had this effect on me. It healed the pain and revealed to my heart the light it had unknowingly ignored all along.
Writing had this effect on me. Whenever my soul bled, my pen would hover over the parchment and transform red and burning blooddrops into dark and cold spirals.
Writing had this effect on me. Whenever my heart’s wounds would open, the soft tapestry of my notebook would carefully embrace its bleeding cut, as if drinking from a fountain of sorrows.
Writing had this effect on me. Whenever my heart would empty itself from its deafening rivers, I would recite one of his names, and light would enter from the very wound that had been bleeding all along.
His names had this effect of me. It turned blood into ink, and ink into light. It turned a dying and feeble candle into an eternal shining sun.

I read Rilke, I thought Rumi.

In my mind, I have often defined and sometimes reduced mystical poetry in its more lyrical form to sufi poems from the likes of Rumi, Hafez, Emre, Iqbal, and so on. Yet, after broadening the horizons of my literary readings, I realized that themes that were introduced, developped or expended in sufi poetry are very much universal, and are often shared by other faiths, and hence, by non muslim/sufi poets. If I had to choose a book that would best represent this similiraty between mystical poems written by non-sufi poets, I would definately choose ‘The Book of hours’ by Rainer Maria Rilke. And If I had just one poems to pick out of this book, it would be : ‘I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone’ (shared below).

“I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
to make every moment holy.
I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.
I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action;
and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone.
I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
and I never want to be blind, or to be too old
to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
and I want my grasp of things to be
true before you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I looked at
closely for a long time,
like a saying that I finally understood,
like the pitcher I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that carried me
through the wildest storm of all.”

If I didnt know who had written this poem, I would have thought it to be a Coleman Barks translation of Rumi in english.

Film Review: ‘Muhammad, The Messenger of God’.

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Dazed. Overwhelmed. Amazed. These are all words I have read often in books but rarely used in my day-to-day life, and even more rarely in my writings. With time, I have become very sensitive and critical when analyzing experiences with high emotional content that trigger wonderment and fascination, as some of those experiences are solely based on feelings, while carrying very little reasoning and logic. Only once in a while do I find a rare gem, whose radiating shine manages to enlighten both my mind and heart in a compatible manner. Yesterday, after years of digging around in caves of religiously inspired artistic creativity, I found a rare diamond. A masterpiece of its own. A journey of the senses.

I could sense the excitement. Everyone was smiling and their hand gestures and body language were all giving away glimpses of their eagerness to meet their beloved Prophet. Prior to the screening, Majid Majidi was invited to give a small speech. Right after his polite salutations, the movie began. I thought reaching Montreal had brought my summer traveling to an end. But I soon realized that Majid Majidi had other plans for me. As soon as the movie started, I found my mind and soul silently leaving me and flying towards the Arabian Peninsula, in order to experience the light of the Prophet.

I am hesitant to reveal too much about the movie itself, as I am sure many readers reading this review are just as eager as I was to discover this epic movie on their own. Keeping in mind the fact that I also wouldn’t have necessarily liked reading a review divulging too much about the content, the twists and the plot of this movie, I will focus on the general impression that I got after watching the movie so that this review does not become a spoiler.

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The first thing you need to know about this movie is that it’s actually not a ‘typical’ movie. It is a unique sensory experience. Visually, auditorily, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It is a journey in every sense of the word. This movie takes you in Majidi’s sleep where you end up sharing the colourful dream he is having about what the Prophet’s mercy means to him.

I don’t know whether it is my personality or my love for poetry and arts that have biased and channeled the way I perceived this film, but not once during the entire screening did I feel  that I was watching a movie per se. I felt as If I was sitting in a room, and someone was whispering a poem in my ears. It was as if I was walking in the desert and listening to the blowing wind carrying the fragrance of The Messenger’s mercy. I literally felt as if I was standing still over a mountain and appreciating the beauty of a valley symbolizing the Prophet’s beauty with an angel singing his praises whilst all other creations joined and chanted the one name unison: Muhammad! Ya Nabi! Ya Rasul! Ya Muhammad!

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While reading the very lyrical way in which I am referring to this movie, I am sure you might have understood that it’s very difficult for a follower of the Prophet and his family to be truly impartial about this movie. I am actually conscious of the fact that this review cannot possibly be objective. And how could it be? How can I expect myself to be impartial while hearing the one name that has continuously and constantly been the ultimate source of peace and salvation in my life? The personality, life and existence of the Prophet are so interweaved with my own that it would have been unreasonable for me to experience this movie without engaging and unleashing oceans of love that this man has filled my heart with.

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Interestingly, I wasn’t the only one who thought this movie invited the observer to enter a greater realm of artistic expression. This movie felt like a poem to me, but a friend came up to me and told me how he felt the movie was a beautiful painting in which every scene was a perfectly executed brush stroke filling the canvas of our imagination with colours of sincerity, spirituality and love.

Like any other movie, I am sure not everyone would have enjoyed it as much as I did, especially those expecting the movie to have been shot along the lines of ‘The Message’, which is a great movie for Muslims and non-Muslims alike who want to grasp the political and historical aspects of the Prophet’s life. I am sure some of the more pragmatic people seated in the cinema would have argued that, had they been given 40 million dollars to invest on a movie to be screened worldwide, they would have made sure to have a more informative movie at the expense of its artistic quotient. They would have preferred a movie showing events that have shaped the Prophet’s life and triggered the rise of Islam. In other words, a movie that would have generated more awareness than admiration in peoples mind, especially amongst non-Muslims viewers.

Although I understand this reasoning, I don’t hold that position, mainly because I don’t think it was the goal Majid Majidi had set for himself. I don’t think the idea behind this movie was to remake ‘The Message’ using better technology and marketing it for a greater audience. The philosophy behind Majidi’s ‘Muhammad’ was to take the observer’s hand and make him travel into the very core of the Prophet’s spirituality and realize what a beacon of light he had become for the people who had encountered him. And even though, this depiction is not the best way to properly inform a naïve and non-Muslim observer about the position of the Prophet in his time and the legacy he left behind, this movie will clearly succeed in making any viewer understand the god given, spiritual and mystical personality of the Prophet, which literally attracted people towards him. The taste that the movie leaves in everyone’s mind is that this personality was truly a blessing for the entire humanity.

This movie will certainly come as source of peace and tranquility for the Muslim Ummah and it will hopefully ‘soften’ the image depicted by the Western media about the Prophet being an aggressive and sometimes unkind person. Walking back home, a befitting couplet from one of my favorite ‘Manqabat’ by Agha Sarosh came to my mind. A couplet which depicts perfectly the source of mercy The Prophet has always been in my life:


Ek din jalti dhoop me jab cherdi naat e Rasool

Under a scorching sun, when I whispered praises of the Prophet

Rahmatoun ki har taraf aissi ghata chayi ke bas!

Winds of blessings started blowing, in a way that I had not seen before!


My last thoughts are directed towards Majid Majidi and his team who dedicated 7 years of their life for this herculean task, and have blessed us with this beautiful masterpiece. I sincerely encourage every one reading this review to watch the movie if they get the opportunity to. If you want to experience what it feels like to travel while remaining still, to fly while keeping your hands tied, or to dream having your eyes wide open, this movie is for you.

(Click here to watch the trailer in full HD)

A Silent Turmoil

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When the wind of hardships blows from the west

They awaken oceans deeply burried within me

Their anxious waves come bashing against edges of my sollitude

Giving rise to a muddling noise echoed deep within my depths

While this deafening concert takes place within me

A mere spectator of my afflictions I become

And like a gentleman enjoying a tragic play, I stay calm and still

I remain silent to absorb this overwhelming turmoil

The puddle.

puddle

At the sight of this puddle.

If those eyes had stared long enough.

While looking at themselves

If they had come, just close enough.

While gazing at their own reflection,

If they had looked, just deep enough.

If they had looked, just deep enough

Their lost corals they would have found

If they had come, just close enough.

At their footstep, a water lily they would have found

If those eyes had stared long enough.

Beneath a puddle, an ocean they would have found.

A Light of a Different Kind

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A light of a different kind

One that enlightened my existence

But disappeared when my eyes started to shine

A wisdom of a different kind

One that soothed my soul

But flew away when I wished to reach its height

An intellect of a different kind

One that questioned my existence

But remained silent when I dared questioning its own

A certainty of a different kind

One that shook pillars of my faith

But could not withstand the weight of my slightest doubts

A morality of a different kind

One that revealed jewels of purity without speaking

But rebelled at the sight of an inspired soul

A kindness of a different kind

One that invited confessions to happen

But remained silent when oceans are unleashed

A complexity of a different kind

A light that enlightens its surroundings

But runs away from its own darkness

A wisdom that freed my soul

But could not free itself from its own rebellion

An intellect that sparkled my thoughts

But could not silence its own judgmental voice

A certainty that boasted firmness

But only revealed its own frailty

A morality that spoke for itself

But remained silent when an answer was due

A kindness that opened the door to my heart and mind

But did not travel in their dreams and hopes

A light of a different kind

One that was afraid of itself the most

Sincerity, like a mirror, had dazzled her depth

We were birds of a feather, but birds a different kind

Ones that needed to share a walk together

Before flocking together in the skies

A story of a different a kind

Where pen and paper finally met

But God’s hand waited to write

Our destiny, with a light of a different kind

Oceans

You see it as a stain.

I see it as a lesson.

Both bring about the same pain.

The difference lies in our perceptions.

When you see oceans,

You think of drowning.

When I see them,

The only that comes to my mind

is the beauty of discovering new lands.