This is a site that attempts to encourage the understanding of the unity of all being and its implications for humanity on their journey of return to the One. Reflections are often presented in the form of creative writing and poetry
- Name: Yafiah Katherine Randall
- Location: United Kingdom
To read is good, to practice is better
Monday, January 30, 2006
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Tafakkur Three: Thought and Reflection
In his post on the ‘Qur’an as Classical Music’ Ali Eteraz says, ‘In other words, thought militates against “inner stillness.”’ It can, I agree with him completely, so what on earth am I talking about when I refer to reflection as a spiritual exercise. Beginning this series on tafakkur has become a challenge to investigate and comprehend more on the subject and I find several problems heading in my direction but also some fascinating resolutions that I will summarize later in my conclusion. First, an obvious question arises that demands attention: What is the difference between thought and reflection? While writing on tafakkur I have understood reflection to be something different to the noise of a busy mind. I have taken the translation of ‘tafakkur’ as ‘reflection’ from Professor James Morris in his translations of the work of Ibn ‘Arabi and I am happy to work with that as I have seen it translated likewise by other scholars.
If I understand the word ‘tafakkur’ as ‘reflection’ in English or ‘to reflect’ then I find it expedient to consider the definition of the word. Collins English Dictionary defines reflection as ‘careful or long consideration or thought’, and the definition of ‘to reflect’ as ‘to think, meditate, or ponder.’ So thinking is in there too, well it has to be doesn’t it? You could hardly reflect, or ponder, on anything without thoughts arising but is there a difference in the nature of thoughts, in other words is there such a thing as modes of thinking, just as there are various modes of knowledge according to the work of Sufi masters? It would make sense and the difference must be in the provenance of the thought. If I think about a problem and my mind becomes crowded with so many thoughts, half of which do not relate to the problem but are distractions, then my intention has no anchor and therefore no substantial trajectory; it dissipates in the noise of the mind or the imperatives of the moment. The origin of my thinking, in this case, is more likely to have been the lower nafs. However, if I reflect, as I understand it, then my intention is to open up to unthought possibilities and to receive the presence of the numinous that can speak to us because it is universally manifest, even within the thoughts we think. But of course it is veiled, and without kashf (unveiling) we can be oblivious to its presence because our soul is buried under the influence of a dominating mind. When this happens then we are not using the intellect as an instrument of our fitr (inherent spiritual nature) but are cowering under the arrogance and confusion of a faculty that is being allowed to step out of place. Ideally, the intellect should complement our fitr, be its servant. One of the ways this can be done is through reflection. This is how I understand tafakkur.
Now another question thrusts forward and I am not sure that it bears any linguistic relation to the Arabic ‘tafakkur’, it does, however, bear a direct relation, in mystical terms, to the fruits of tafakkur. This question relates to the other definition of ‘reflection’: How does the meaning that I have been using in my articles so far relate to its other usage, as in, a reflection in a mirror? Immediately the word ‘barzakh’ comes to mind. I am deferring here, back and forth from English to Arabic, take note Derrida! Now barzakh is a state that lies between two other states and contains characteristics of both, a liminal space if you will, and the reason that this word comes to mind when thinking of ‘reflection’ and ‘mirror’ is that Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi uses the example of a reflection in a mirror to elucidate what he means by the barzakh of the ‘alam al-khayal, or to say it in English as best I can (and no language can truly do justice to the Arabic of the Qur’an), the liminal space of the imaginal. Please bear with me, this is leading to my point, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi points out that what you see when you look in a mirror is both yourself, and not yourself. Exactly the state in the barzakh, when the purely spiritual takes on form and the physical becomes ever changing as its inner state is exteriorized. Put more simply, this is the dwelling place of the soul. Now what occurs when the thinking person enters this space? I am suggesting the person is both thinking and not thinking because the activity of reflection, if successful, is a step in to the barzakh of the ‘alam al-khayal. A realm of being that is in itself a reflector of the inner state.
The conclusion I have reached, using ‘reflection’ rather than ‘thought’ as the translation of ‘tafakkur’ via Ibn ‘Arabi, and combining the two definitions of the word ‘reflection’ is that it is possible to arrive at a fresh perspective on the purpose of practising reflection. Moreover this semantic route takes me straight to the heart of the trajectory of the question posed by the Qur’an when it repeatedly asks whether we can see the wonders of creation, and if so then we should reflect on them, for they are all the Signs of God, ‘On the horizons and within the selves’. Humankind needs no further proof of the One for it is manifest around us, and within us. The entirety of creation, including ourselves reflects the reality of the Real as a mirror. Simultaneously we are required to reflect on that reality so our purpose as mirrors of the Real is more fully achieved. So for me the aim of reflecting on something is finally to be looking as if in a mirror, to see my own reflection, to see the mother who shouts at her child, she is me, so I learn not to judge harshly. Her child, yes that’s me too, so I stop shouting because I know how it feels. The husband who is too tired to go out, I see my face reflected in his, and understand. If I continue to see my reflection in the other then ultimately, Insh’allah, I ‘see’ the Creator for ‘Wherever you look there is the Face of God’, and suddenly there is no ‘other’, there is only the One.
The above represents my own reflections based on my reading and limited experience. I am grateful for any comments from those who have also addressed these themes.
Nine year old Aya was shot dead because she got too close to the border. Umm Yousef tells the story here. Some are saying that we will never know the true story of what happened but I say, let Aya stand for all the children who died that day. They died because there was no food for them to eat; they died from drinking dirty water; they died due to the lack of medical care; but, more than anything else, they died as the result of conflict. In the world today children are the only innocent ones, the rest of us are culpable to some extent. May walls, fences, borders, barriers of all kinds, become history one day but how can that happen until the biggest barriers of all begin to crumble, the barriers in our hearts and minds?
Friday, January 27, 2006
Convivencia is a Spanish word that means living together. It is used to refer to the time in medieval Al-Andalus when the three Abrahamic monotheisms lived together peacefully and created the most sophisticated civilization in Europe at the time and paved the way for the Renaissance. The word is used again today as an expression of hope for what is possible. Try this link for an excellent and very informative article: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200305/granada.s.new.convivencia.htm
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
in billows. Like my favourite jilbab, it leaves
pockets of warm air that caress my skin
and speak secrets to the stars.
But thoughts wander in a maze without end
and enter once more, unbid, bearing news
that wounds my peace with its indulgence
in the mere fluff of a dunya laughing loud.
Do I lack some special gift, bestowed
on few? A secret that the constellations
will not reveal? I beg a song to re-configure
the tragic meanderings from my journey’s route.
The sky responds inside my heart, the flash,
a supernova, dismisses the trash and leaves me
trembling. It stuns my nafs and my soul vibrates
with ‘Alastu bi Rabbikum!’ I surrender to this grace.
© Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006 All Rights Reserved
Monday, January 23, 2006
Tafakkur Two: When to Practice
Tafakkur Two: When to Practice
When is the best time to consciously practice tafakkur? I’m busy all day and it’s not as if I don’t reflect carefully on a lot of things while I’m writing, or cooking, or visiting friends. For example, as I made my way down the narrow and steeply inclined streets of the village yesterday I reflected on religion. I find it a problematic word because so much that is completely unrelated goes under its banner. I don’t mean the differences between religions, but rather the different attitudes and actions within any one religion, and this goes pretty much across the board of any religion; the literalists, and the dogmatists, the mystics, and the ascetics, the otherworldly, the life-embracing, the violent, the peaceful, and the downright wacky. Because religious institutions of various kinds have held enormous power and political clout, their pronouncements can be at times detrimental to large groups of society, and sometimes beneficial. I don’t feel that the Arabic word ‘deen’ translates very well as ‘religion’, for under the term religion we normally understand an organization, or institution, with a hierarchy and all sorts of rules and regulations. This is very much an area of human affairs and worldly matters. I decided to write about the difficulty of translating ‘deen’ in to English and to explore the meanings in that beautiful Arabic word. It is down on my list of themes to write about. It’s actually a problem that one of the characters in my novel-in-progress thinks about, so there you are, it is obviously a recurring theme for me that needs to be given more focussed attention. ‘Deen’, as I understand the word, is a spiritual reality that has immense consequences for our lives here and now. It is what determines us as travellers to the Real and reminds us that, whether willing or not, we are on a journey of return to the One.
Now to return to my original question: When is the best time to consciously practice tafakkur? I might even ask: Why set aside a special time when I can do it in situ as it were? First, as I read on Fethullah Gulen’s website (cited above) the Prophet Muhammad Pbuh, is reported to have said, ‘No act of worship is as meritorious as reflection (tafakkur)’ Second, distraction is a real danger unless I seek a quiet and private space to do my reflecting. There is nothing wrong with reflection ‘on the go’, it helps me keep close to what is good and to avoid destructive or unhelpful thoughts and emotions, and since the world, and my daily life, is full of the signs of the One this acts as a constant reminder of the journey we are all undertaking. However, if I want to achieve an inner stillness to deepen my reflections and become more receptive to ‘hearing’ any guidance then I believe the discipline of setting aside a specific time every day will assist in that purpose and also create an inner space that I can carry into my daily activities. In other words, practicing this form of spiritual exercise regularly will help to actualize any insights. Immediately I am flooded with concerns as to how I am to find extra time every day when the day never seems long enough as it is. Well there is always the option of getting up earlier, or going to bed later, or extending my lunch break a little, even if it is just twenty minutes. The next question is what am I going to reflect on? I’ll be recording my thoughts on that in my next post in this series.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
The Spirit of Knowledge
If you scroll down the page you will find the first of my planned articles on tafakkur which I will be supplementing with links like this one:
Tafakkur literally means to think on a subject deeply, systematically, and in great detail. In this context, it signifies reflection, which is the heart's lamp, the spirit's food, the spirit of knowledge, and the essence and light of the Islamic way of life …
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Reflect upon the wondrous skill ...
Tafakkur: A series of articles on the practice of reflection
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/22/international/22whale.html I was reminded that I wanted to write about tafakkur. What’s the connection? Well, the image of the whale led me to reflect on the Prophet Yunus (Jonah) and his three days in the belly of a whale, a metaphor for a time of complete withdrawal, almost death, before a transformation occurs in the soul. But it was the word ‘reflection’ that jolted my memory and led me to think of tafakkur, for that is the meaning of this word. What is Tafakkur? It is the practice of reflecting on anything, giving something due consideration. This can range from important life decisions to the meanings inherent in all creation. The Qur’an constantly reminds us that the entire universe is full of the signs of the Real if only we stop to think and reflect! For example in this verse of the Surah entitled ‘The House of Imran’ (Al-Imran)
3: 190 Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 3: 191 [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth:
(Muhammad Asad translation)
In the Qur’an the word used for verse is itself ‘sign’ or ayat. We can reflect no matter what we are doing but I think it might also be a good idea to set aside time every day for reflection. It is a spiritual exercise in that we use our cognitive abilities together with an openness to be inspired and guided to an understanding of the Real within what may often seem obscure. This applies as much to the astrophysicist pondering the nature of gravity as to the mother of small children seeking the most appropriate school. There are many aspects to tafakkur, for example there is no point in reflecting in this manner if any insights gained find no application in our daily lives or the way we conduct ourselves. I plan to undertake a deeper study of tafakkur, insh’allah, and to develop this in to a series of articles. Many great Sufis have spoken of tafakkur and I’ll let you know what I find. So look out for the next instalment!
Thursday, January 19, 2006
LAND IN SIGHT
Velveteen Rabbi: Sufism: beyond the veil
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
The Synagogue in Cordoba
"But none of them see their prophetic vision except in a dream, in a night vision, or during the day when deep sleep falls upon them"
This is a great article, a commentary on the Torah, that speaks of Maimonides, the most eminent mystic/philosopher of Judaism. Maimonides was a contemporary of Ibn Arabi and also lived and worked in Al-Andalus.There is a great deal in common between the Jewish and the Muslim mystical traditions emerging at this time (12th/13th Century CE) from medieval Al-Andalus (present day Andalucia).
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
You turned and pointed, and when I looked in the direction You were indicating I saw a vast horizon of which I was unaware before. We stood at a great height and from here the distant sea was visible with its sparkling reflections of light. On the shoreline I discerned a boat waiting to set sail. You waved your hand towards the boat, becoming impatient with my reluctance to leave. Finally I began the descent to the shore but as soon as I had taken a few steps, the forest, and brambles, and rocks, around the mountain gathered force against me and I slipped and became entangled in their relentless power of impediment. I stood once again and continued in my effort to reach that waiting vessel.
The ship floats on the surface of the water, content in the gentle rocking of the waves. I board the navigator of the ocean of being and discover it is You who are the sea, and its vastness, and the lands beyond.
Ibn Arabi and Jalal'uddin Rumi
I read this article on Ibn ‘Arabi and Jalal’uddin Rumi a while back and have been trying to find it again ever since. I was successful last night. I found it in one of my many folders. I think the article from the Independent Weekly is so important because it describes how the whole world can benefit from the words of these two great medieval men of spiritual genius. As the author of the article, Godfrey Cheshire says, they could truly become giants of the future. Rumi is already the best read poet in the US, and Ibn ‘Arabi is gaining steadily in popularity as many dedicated scholars translate his work.
Beasts of Burden: Why our official culture isn’t sure it wants us to know about Ibn ‘Arabi and Rumi by Godfrey Cheshire, Independent Weekly
When you have read the article you may want to go to this excellent site for more information
Monday, January 16, 2006
Sunday, January 15, 2006
There is a certain Love
that is formed out of
the elixir of the East.
There is a certain cloud,
impregnated with a
There is my body,
in it an ocean formed of his glory,
all the creation,
all the universes,
all the galaxies,
are lost in it.
Trans. Shahram Shiva
Saturday, January 14, 2006
"I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the 'white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."Malcolm X
Friday, January 13, 2006
This is a view of Granada from the Alhambra. Below is an excerpt from my novel which is situated in Granada.
Miguel stared into his beer and decided he had had enough. He paid and left. Glad to be outside again, he began walking. It felt a lot cooler than earlier and as he looked up at the sky it was obvious that its wide open expanse, filled with numerous stars, was responsible for the sink in temperature. Miguel sought no particular direction, just a rather aimless, walking meditation. He followed his feet in the same fashion as he followed his meandering reflections. In this manner Miguel walked for over an hour. He came to the Albaicin, close to the Alhambra, and experienced a renewed sense of familiarity with this ancient quarter. How well he knew its history, its heyday, its upheavals, its persecution, but it was not Miguel the academic walking through these medieval streets right now; it was Miguel the lovelorn, caught up in a dilemma that defied analysis, which demanded courage and perspicacity. He felt at home in this place even though he knew it was considered unsafe at night. Its alleys and bazaars, the hamam and the residence of the local qadi, the small house where Morayma, wife of the last Ruler of the Kingdom of Granada spent her lonely exile from the Alhambra, all intermingled in his imagination with the aromas of exquisitely strong mint tea, simmering lamb and apricot tagines. He heard the sounds of women laughing and weeping; the recitation of the Qur’an from the madrassas; the call to prayer that for a short interval silenced the noises of the market and the business deals in the silk bazaar. Miguel looked across the river Darro to the Alhambra, just beyond its banks, and added the fierce arguments of politics to his imaginary collage of times past and times present. The sultan in counsel with his ministers, and again, listening to the petitions of his people; yet further, in the Serallo, the whisperings of diplomacy and the grief of betrayal and intrigue. Enemies at the gate ready to sack Granada.
Miguel decided to walk along the Corredera del Darro toward the Alhambra. He could not resist his present mood. This was not an historical stroll but an entirely ambient experience. He planned to walk past the terraced fountain and on to the path through the woods. He could then return to the Plaza Nueva, near the cathedral, via the road used by the Alhambra buses. Miguel had attended nighttime concerts in the court gardens before now. He and Paquita and two of her friends had seen an impressive flamenco display on her fourteenth birthday, but to be here on his own, the palace-fortress closed, precipitated his immersion in its intrinsic sadness. Like a secret it held for the night alone when there were few people around. A secret the Alhambra had held for five hundred and fourteen years. A secret that desired to be whispered in Miguel’s ear as much as it rustled through the leaves of its gardens, across its marble floors, and through its wooden lattice windows. Something beckoned Miguel and he could not quite discern its provenance.
Above the Snowline in Spain
I live in a mountain village eleven hundred meters above sea level. To the South I can see the Mediterranean, reminiscent of so many historical events important to the world. The countries that surround its waters have spawned the foundations of the three Abrahamic religions; the philosophical debates of Ancient Greece; great poets and musicians, and several stunning archaeological finds. The waves of the Mediterranean resound with the clashing swords of pirates, the prayers of pilgrims, and the distress of the shipwrecked. If I gaze across the sea at night I can make out the lights of tankers and cruise ships. The lights of towns on the coast sparkle like jewels on black velvet and the lighthouse beams its protective ray at regular intervals.
The view to the North is utterly different. The Sierra Nevada mountain range fills me with awe as I gaze at its majestic grace. At this time of year it is covered in snow which shines, luminescent, on nights of the full moon like tonight.
The mountain range on which I live runs between the Sierra Nevada and the coastline, for most of the winter we lie beneath the snowline but the past two years have been exceptional. Just two nights ago I was driving back from Granada, which lies behind the Sierra Nevada, when it began raining in torrents. This was really an occasion for joy as we are experiencing a drought at present, but driving up mountain roads when the rain is pouring off the sides, bringing down soil and stones, is not fun; especially when a small skid can take you over the edge to certain death.
Worse was to come as we drove higher and the rain became snow, and then even higher where the snow was settling fast and the bends become more frequent and difficult until finally the wheels of the car were spinning, no longer able to grip, and the car got stuck, luckily against the mountain side and not on the edge.
After fruitless attempts to clear the snow with nothing but our hands and feet, two men in a 4x4 stopped and helped. They pulled the car out and we began the descent back to the hotel-in-the-middle-of-nowhere that we had recently passed. Once safe, after a good meal and a hot drink, I went out to view the landscape. It was stunningly dramatic: mountains, cork oaks, all bearing their mantle of thick, white snow with dignity and inviting me to partake in their aura of shelter and wellbeing. As I gave thanks for our safety I was reminded of the words in the Quran that ‘over every soul there is a watcher.’
Islamic Feminism: A Contradiction in Terms?
Islamic Feminism would certainly appear to be a contradiction in terms, as would Jewish Feminism and Christian Feminism. However, a distinction needs to be made between the practice of many Muslims, which is blatantly misogynistic and often informed by patriarchal tendencies and non-Islamic traditional culture, and Islam itself as revealed in the Quran.
Muslim peoples are no different from any others worldwide in terms of the imbalance in gender relations in favour of the male, although historically there are many examples of an enlightened attitude among Muslims in this respect. An example would be the provision of a legal status to women and the rights of inheritance from the early 7th century Muslim community onwards. It took many more centuries before the equivalent was available to women in the West. Education is another point, it is the responsibility of every Muslim, man and woman, to seek knowledge and throughout history there have been many female scholars.
However, as I mentioned above, the daily reality for many Muslim women is very far indeed from the ideal equilibrium set out in the Quran. Some of the reasons for this are: 1) The tenacity of patriarchal modes of society (and tribal law in some areas); its values being so internalized that a clear view becomes difficult even for women. 2) The vast majority of theologians and interpreters of the Quran have been men, and they have tended to interpret in their favour, often being too literalist and ignoring the subtle layers of meaning within the Quran and the Arabic language itself, Jalaluddin Rumi and Ibn 'Arabi being notable exceptions. This is now changing as ever more women are acquiring the skills necessary for interpretation. These women (Amina Wadud for example) are calling for a change in traditional gender relations by referring to the Quran; they are working from within without the need to refer to Western feminism.
It is my belief that Western feminism could benefit from a dialogue with Islamic feminism. What is especially interesting is that the Quran recognizes the differences between male and female and their respective rights and responsibilities toward each other. Now, male biased interpretations might take this as an excuse to control women and their activities and thereby underpin patriarchal values, this is far from the intention of the Quran which is in fact very close to the Postfeminist theory of the Western academy which wishes to distance itself from the sixties brand of feminism that would claim ‘women can do anything that men can do’ which in the opinion of some represents a total capitulation to patriarchy, e.g. along the lines of ‘men are so wonderful let’s all try and be like them’. There is no ‘battle of the sexes’ in Islam, on the contrary, the Quran tells us that men and women are as cloaks for each other, to protect and support each other.
Unfortunately, media coverage of Islam and Muslims is very biased in favour of the negative, and any non-Muslim may get a completely incorrect picture of Islam, the Taliban for example have nothing to do with Islamic values and the majority of Muslims are horrified by their actions in respect to women. So, both non-Muslims and Muslims themselves have a lot to learn in terms of gender relations and the Quranic teachings on such. I do believe that this is a universal discussion as only true equilibrium between the sexes can free our creative and intellectual potential to focus on the myriad of problems that we need to be addressing in the contemporary world.
I would like to add a comment on the word ‘feminism’, since it suggests something other than equilibrium I am at present in search of an alternative term that expresses the meaning ‘balanced gender relations’.
The End of Days
When my Beloved rises at night to the moon, he leaves no footprints, but he comes away covered in dust. You can see it as sparks in the sky as he makes his descent. He once lived on the moon, alone and filled with longing for his love. His love abounded as roses of Attar and he returns every night to be with the all-permeating scent of her for whom he yearns.
I look at the moon from the safety of my kitchen. I look at the moon through the closed window, above the pots and the pans and the chipped mugs. I say to myself I am a coward if I never dare climb the clouds to the moon. The luminous sphere has turned a blood red and the peoples of Earth are talking of a final catastrophe.
Far from here another woman stands on the roof of her mud, sun-baked dwelling and sees the moon splitting in two above the Mountain of Light. She takes up her flute when she sees this miracle of the moon. The song wails across the dunes, it echoes the wailing of a distressed child. The wailing ceases. The flute lays half buried in the sand, ploughing through its sunken heat. The woman looks at the moon and then joins the gathering of those sitting tightly around the last of days.
My Beloved whispers in my ear. We mount my white horse and it neighs and pounds against the crispness of dead leaves on the old oak. They fall and shatter the cracking earth with tiny, sharp, wounds. I give thanks for the damp and clammy smells of the animal beneath us. My beloved reigns in the horse and we ride towards the dying of the western sun. Just a few moments suffice to suffuse us with the last drops of an ancient blood and I taste its sweetness.
We pass the half hidden flute and I stretch down and draw it from the sand. Its tired tones of exile and longing announce our passing through the dunes. As we come upon the gathering our pace diminishes and the woman of the flute calls to us, ‘Keep going. We know your story of love and the yearning for union, but take him with you’. She holds up a child and I recognize him as the child who the flute had calmed. We take the child and bid farewell and gallop at breakneck speed. Winged and roseate we gallop to the slit in the horizon where the sun will rise on its own sweet death.