JourneyWoman

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

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To read is good, to practice is better

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Attempting to Imagine

When I started this blog in January I posted an excerpt of a novel in progress. Because I feel a need to return to the more poetic and inspirational after the past weeks with all the awful news of the Danish cartoons, and now the horror of the bombing of the Holy Shrine in Samarrah, I’m posting another excerpt from the novel. We have some excellent writers in the Islamic blogosphere who can write about politics a lot better than I am able to and many thanks to them for their invaluable work. As for me, weeping won’t change much so I try to write stories in the hope that the imagination can. The following describes the extraordinary conversion experience of a man who has studied and taught Islam at University for years but always remained sceptical of embracing the faith.
*
Clare and Miguel
Half an hour later and Miguel stood before the main entrance to the Alhambra and gazed up at the symbolic key above the outer arch and the outstretched hand whose five fingers reminded the faithful of the foundations of their faith. He entered and moved straight to the Nasrid quarters. He had been here so often and never tired of its beauty or its historical importance. He could truly claim that his first acquaintance with the Alhambra over thirty years ago had marked the inception of an academic career that had brought him a great deal of intellectual satisfaction and great respect for Islam.
‘No more than that?’
Had someone whispered in his ear? Or was it the light breeze that blew through the cypresses? Startled, Miguel looked around. What was transpiring? Why did the very air appear to unknot and emit a fragrance that Miguel could only describe as arousing simultaneous emotions of joy and terror? It was tinged with sibylline memories of grace and love, blended subtly with earthy undertones of a dark fear. This fragrance dismantled his ego and stripped his soul naked. He searched frantically for the owner of the voice, rotating on the spot, his eyes darting in every direction.
He stood near a mihrab, the arched alcove that indicated the direction for prayer, and his restless gestures were brought to a sudden halt as the subtle movement of a finely woven robe drew his attention. A female figure issued from the niche of the mihrab and stretched her hand toward him. Confused, Miguel first took her to be one of the many tourists that visit the Alhambra and he looked around to see who she might be offering her hand to. There was no-one else in the vicinity, Miguel stood there alone and, for moments that raised him above the normal dictates of time, he stood in a silence so complete that he imagined hearing the finest of melodies emanate from the fragrance and descending around him like a rain of barakah.
‘You have not brought her to me yet?’
She questioned him softly. Her tones applied a soothing effect to his perplexed mood. Her appearance filled his soul with an unexpected serenity, and yet he would not have believed there could be so much pain in that serenity; the sorrow of a regret that sought atonement without naming its source, a sorrow that manifested as an accompaniment to serenity for only serenity was able to contain and allow its cathartic effect. Overcome by emotion he began sobbing.
‘Do not worry,’ she continued, and she bent forward slightly to brush a smudging of fine sand from her clothes. She glanced toward the fountain in the Court of Lions and then returned her gaze to Miguel. Those eyes carried a deep affirmation of her ease on the soil of his homeland and a conspiratorial spark signalled her inclusion of him in the heritage of this country; this country that was now forever another. The Spain of his birth had become a land that marked the remembrance of the journey he was about to undertake and that he would henceforth travel wholeheartedly. The mihrab from which the woman had emerged transformed into the springboard of his heart.
‘Do not worry. You will bring her here one day soon and I will be here to meet you.’
She swung around and blended subtly into the intricate textures of her surroundings until she was no longer visible.

Miguel was shaken. A few minutes ago he could not have believed anything of what had just happened to him. Surely occurrences like this were the figments of overheated imaginations? He knew with conviction that this was not so in his case. Everything that had just transpired contained a core of uncommon reality that spoke with a rare eloquence of compassion. He had no idea what she had meant about someone he had not brought with him but she had spoken more than words. Her very being had transformed what he had always taken to be a healthy scepticism into a sureness of faith. No! Transformed was not the right word. He had simply been recalled to what his soul had always professed. The pace of terror and joy pulsed through his heart at an increasing speed and he questioned his ability to sustain it without damage to his system. Previously it would have been impossible for him to contain this fear and this love simultaneously. He admitted to himself that he would have made an attempt to turn away, take the easy option as he had done for most of his life, yet now something was telling him that this was the meaning of ‘insh’allah’, the primal covenant that we all made before birth and that we continuously forgot, always needed to remember. The Covenant of Return trembled as the vibrations of an eternal string instrument, and so finely that perceiving it required the art of loving. So much of our original nature as true human beings was veiled and wrung from us in the mangle of sensual gratification and egoism that we no longer understood the meaning of loving oneself. This is surely the origin of my fear, thought Miguel. It is the fear of letting go.
Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006

Friday, February 24, 2006

Xenophobia

These remarks by Australian Federal Treasurer Peter Costello demonstrate a xenophobia of the scariest kind. Many thanks to Tasmiya whose link directed me to Umm Yasmin’s article on Costello’s speech. I refuse to be scared but increasingly over recent weeks I have wanted to weep and asked myself, ‘What can we do?’

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hacking Protest Against Danish Cartoons

I have just read this article in BuzzWebster:politics online. What do you think about this form of protest?

Three Reasons Why I Consider Islam to be Groundbreaking

Initially I thought I would write about the three reasons that I find Islam so groundbreaking and why I embrace Islam fully. These three reasons are the Oneness of God (Tawhid), the universal appeal of Islam, and the fact that in Islam God has no gender. Now there is quite a lot to write about these three points, they yield an abundant harvest of reflections* on diverse theological, philosophical, and tasawwuf matters. This promised to be a long post. Then I looked again and it dawned on me, I no longer saw three points, or three reasons, but only one, just One – Tawhid, Tawhid, Tawhid - for that is what the second two points also reveal themselves to be about at closer investigation, tawhid. If anyone is displaying signs of understanding tawhid then take a look at this photo of baby Sinan over at Abu Sinan’s blog.
This has happened to me before; I mean beginning what I thought was going to be a fairly long post only to be brought up short by a sudden realization. It happened when I started thinking about destiny and free will.
But why do I claim these three points to be groundbreaking? To address tawhid first, the Oneness of God has no qualifiers in Islam, there are no lesser gods, nor is there any division of the One into three. Further, from a Sufi understanding, the Unity of God means there is nothing other than God, all of creation can only exist and be within God for without God there is no existence. God simply Is, God created existence. Now if this all seems too far beyond human comprehension, it’s certainly beyond mine, then that is the point, God is beyond human comprehension. And yet He is certainly not beyond His own comprehension, this is the kernel of knowledge for although we cannot comprehend God with our normal faculties nevertheless we have a Heart, qalb, that is the organ of gnosis, the knowledge that is ‘given’, and the man or woman whose heart is pure can ‘see’ God, for it is He who sees, hears, tastes, through the true human being.
Allah subhanallah wa ta’ala sees His Reflection in the innermost being (sirr) of His friend (wali). This is said in the hadith qudsi which I cited in my previous post ‘Heart of Faith’ and one of the most often heard hadith qudsi of Sufi tradition is the following:

My servant draws near to me by acts of devotion, and then I love him. And when I love him I become his ears, his eyes, his tongue, his hands, his legs and his heart: he hears by Me, he speaks by Me, he handles by Me, he walks by Me and he comprehends by Me


*See Tafakkur posts here for more on reflection, just scroll down to find the first post in the series.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Heart of Faith

Heart of Faith

Jalal’uddin Rumi said that ‘the body is fundamental and necessary for the realization of the Divine Intention’. Existence in the physical realm is the path by which the individual attains union with the One. We need to learn how to ‘read’ the inner meaning of the forms, which are the signs of God, and in the physical world the human being is surely the highest of those signs. If there is no separation then there can be no longing for union and it is that longing that requires us to polish the mirror of our hearts so that when it is clear and pure it reflects the mercy of the One. As is said in one of the hadith qudsi (sacred hadith revealed to the Prophet Pbuh but not part of the Qur’an):

Neither the vastness of My earth, nor that of My heaven can contain me. Indeed it is the heart of the man of faith which can contain Me.  

Monday, February 13, 2006

Expressions of Love on a Momentous Day

Haiku 5
He shook violently
on his return from the cave.
She cloaked him with love.

When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) returned home from the cave to which he often retreated, after receiving the first of the revelations, he was understandably shocked and fearful of what was happening to him. It was his wife Khadija to whom he turned for advice. After listening to his words she comforted him, questioned him, and then informed him that he was not a man possessed and crazy but truly a prophet. The love between Muhammad (pbuh) and Khadija was exemplary and one that I like to reflect on at this time of year when all the trappings of romance are commercially exploited and appear to have little to do with a sincere and abiding love.
To read more about the love of the Prophet (pbuh) and Khadija, click here for an article by Dr. Ahmed al-Kadi.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Is there a chasm between 'the Muslim World' and the West?

Is there a chasm between ‘the Muslim world’ and the West?

Am I hearing right? As I sat at my laptop this morning I could hear the news coming from the television. A chasm has opened up between Islam and the West, it was claiming, a clash of civilizations, they pronounced. Now that is rubbish, very dangerous rubbish initiated by Samuel P. Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilizations and the Re-making of World Order’ written in 1993. Read here for a review on the consequences of this theory.
I live in the West and I am a Muslim but where is the chasm inside me? Do the fault lines of this ‘clash’, as Huntingdon calls it, run right down the middle of me? Maybe my intestines are at war with my liver, or possibly my left foot is ashamed of my right foot, even, God forbid, my heart is in denial of its dependence on my lungs! Or is that vice versa? No culture, civilization, or religion is, or ever has been, an island. Muhammad Pbuh is reported to have said that we should seek knowledge wherever we find it and the exchange of knowledge is one way in which the peoples of the world are interdependent, effecting industry, philosophy, religion, even cuisine, worldwide. The gain that Europe accrued from the scholarship of medieval Al-Andalus in medicine, philosophy, and theology, paving the way for the Renaissance is an excellent illustration of this fact, but it has been said many times and the powers that be choose to ignore it because the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory appears to provide a good excuse for Islamophobia.

To return to my own situation, I am Muslim and I am in the West, I was born here and I grew up here. How can this be if there is supposedly a chasm between the two? Some well meaning people might say that I can act as a bridge; well no actually, I am not here to be walked across so that some can maintain that ‘not all Muslims are extreme’ while looking at me quizzically (and sometimes worse) and wondering what on earth attracted me to Islam. I and many others like me, both reverts and born Muslims, can stand as a paradox to the non-Muslims being swayed by the ‘chasm and clash’ syndrome. I am not a paradox to myself of course, embracing Islam was part of a natural and logical flow in my life, but I appear as such to non-Muslims and my hope is that their engagement with what seems to be a paradox can lead to a paradigm change in thinking so that the ‘them and us’ attitude dissolves into history and is recognized as the destructive and nonsensical paradigm of identity construction that it is.

In conclusion, what is then meant by ‘the Muslim world’ in Western discourse and news reports? It is spoken as if it where a place elsewhere and completely forgets that a country is the people who live in it, the people of England, the country of my birth, as in many other 'Western' countries, includes many Muslims, they are not 'other', they are English, or French, Danish, American, Australian etc. I would also like to approach this question from the perspective of the Muslim concept of the Dar al-Islam, which according to Muslim scholars is a place where you can practice Islam freely. Traditionally this is a geographical location where Islamic laws rule. This is changing. Islam is present all around the globe so what do we mean when we speak of the Dar al-Islam today? Is it not also the space within which every sincere Muslim moves and prays and acts? The space they create around themselves? Is the Dar al-Islam today more about the energy of surrender that is dependent on the sincerity of the heart and knows no territorial borders as it traverses the planet? Surely the only boundaries to the Dar al-Islam are ignorance and hypocrisy and they also traverse the globe. I am speaking here of the inner state of the individual that effects that persons behaviour and actions and contributes to the condition of the wider community, not of the proclaimed politics of the powerful. The Dar al-Islam therefore, as also the ‘Muslim world’, is anywhere and everywhere that the sincere Muslim sees that: ‘To God belong the East and the West; wherever you turn there is the Face of God’ Qur’an 2:115

Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In Honour of the Prophet Salalahi wa Salaam

The Islamic Artists Society is hosting a blogging carnival in honour of the Prophet Salalahi wa salaam on the 19th of February. For details on how to submit your creative work, whether poetry, stories, essays, paintings, go to Izzy Mo's site for more information.

An Abyssinian Story in Honour of the Prophet Pbuh

An Abyssinian Story in Honour of Prophet Muhammad Pbuh

I, Asma’, wife of Ja’far Ibn Abu Talib, have found refuge in a land that is friendly to those of us who are Muslim, the ones who willingly surrender to the One God. Our Prophet, the Trustworthy, whose calling Khadija first recognized, has sent us here for our protection. My husband, harassed so unjustly by his family, has been appointed by Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, to lead this small contingent of the most severely persecuted of our brothers and sisters. These are the people who have no recourse to powerful clan affiliations that would be embarrassed by the torture of one of their own members. So the unbelievers, more interested in the concerns of trade and the economic position of Makkah, target the least influential amongst us in the attempt to usurp the Prophet’s calling and refute the revelations that come upon him.

My husband is the cousin of Muhammad, the Trustworthy, and the brother of Ali Ibn Abu Talib. This is the second hijrah to Abyssinia and we are grateful for the kindness and wisdom of our host, the Negus. He is a Christian ruler but he is in great sympathy with our account of what has been revealed through our Prophet and he respects the revealed message concerning Maryam and her son, Isa.

In this land I feel safe from the dangers of falling into the hands of the Makkan elite, the worshippers of idols for personal gain. They argue that they simply follow the traditions of their parents before them and that we should do the same. They cannot envision change, nor do they desire to improve their ways if it inhibits their greed and their status. I cry for them, they are too blind to see what is before their eyes. An honest, trustworthy man, who brims over with kindness and generosity, stands before them, and they laugh at him and deride his words. More than this, they question the revelation that comes so powerfully through his lips from the One God, Allah ta’ala.
How I long to still be in the presence of the Prophet and to hear the revelations as they come! Maybe I am ungrateful. It is good for those of us who are here in Abyssinia for we are protected and it is important that the emerging ummah grow and not be crushed by its enemies. Nearly every day, Ja’far and I speak of Muhammad and recall our dearest memories of him and at night, in our dreams, we hear his voice telling us to abide and be patient for the mercy of God is always with us. So I go about my daily chores happy to be amongst people who have befriended us and I offer my prayers that my own people may one day enjoy the light that has come into our lives.

Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Haiku 4

Isa! The monk calls,
My eyes have seen the Prophet!
Tell Khadija fast!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Destiny and Freewill

Thoughts on Destiny (Qadar) and Free Will (Ikhtiyar)


As I was falling asleep last night I began thinking about destiny and free will. I cannot remember what initiated these thoughts but almost as soon as I began reflecting on this perennial problem the Day of Alastu (yawm al-mithāq), as Sufis call the primordial covenant with Allah, came to my mind. It might be better if I said that it came into my heart because it appeared like an immediate answer and solution to all the arguments in favour of one or the other. In that moment before creation all our souls were given a choice when they were drawn forth from the loins of Adam and asked:

Alastu bi Rabbikum?'(Am I not your Lord?), to which they reply, 'Bala Shahidna' (Yes, it is so). Qur’an 7:172.

Is this not both destiny and freewill in those few, all embracing words? I just pray that I continue to remember that covenant deep within me until every moment of my life is guided by my destiny to return and my choice to travel willingly.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Prayer of Taif

The following is the transcript of the jum’ah khutbah given by Luqman Ali. It is a very moving and, to my mind, appropriate comment on the reactions to the Danish cartoons. Brother Luqman has kindly given his permission for it to be posted here and I feel it would be good if others wish to post it also so it receives a wide reading. Luqman is also the artistic director of the Khayaal Theatre Company in Luton, England.


In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

While many Muslims once again fall into the reactionary trap set for them and confirm the thesis of the offending cartoons by exploding in rage and violence, we would do well to reflect upon the Prophet's supplication in Taif. This is the dua he recited with shoes full of
blood, wounds all over his body and after having been insulted, ridiculed and abused by the people of Taif to whom he had taken recourse seeking a place of refuge. Moreover, this occurs after three years of suffering a boycott at the hands of the Quraysh as a result of which Muslims were reduced to eating grass and leaves off of trees.


The Prophet (s) as he walks out of Taif:

"O Allah! I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people. O Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. Your favour is of a more expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descend upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased. There is no power and no might except by You."


If those who claim to love the Prophet(s) so much that they are willing to infringe upon prophetic conduct with their blind rage and fury would reflect upon this prayer, it would be a guiding light for them and a clear instruction as to how a Muslim should respond to our
current situation. It is also the only salve by which troubled hearts and souls will find peace. It will not be found on pickets and demonstrations - not that these may not be useful in making clear our reverence for the sacred and the divine and our indignation at the injustice and double standards of the European press.

In my jum'ah khutbah today, I spoke on this prayer and while there were some whose hearts and eyes were cooled by it, it was obvious to me that there were many who were so caught up in anger that they could not hear.

For whom does the Prophet's saying: 'Islam is good character' mean anything anymore?

Are we to revert to pre-Islamic tribal norms of vengeance and retribution rather than see this as an opportunity to turn hearts by sharing the example of our beloved Prophet's centredness and compassion in the face of hate and enmity with those whose hearts are
open?

Are we to fall into the major sin of despair-fuelled violence rather than maintain hope as the Prophet (s) did when the angel of the mountains met him outside Ta'if following his supplication and offered to cause the mountains surrounding Taif to crumble over the
town and obliterate it to which the Prophet (s) replied: 'No, I hope that these people will one day come to worship only Allah and Him alone'?

Unless we have the centredness and the Allah-consciousness of the Prophet (s) by which every event whether favourable or unfavourable (in material terms) offers us the opportunity of strengthening our relationship with Allah, we will continue to be the victim of every ruse and ploy.

Rather than reacting with violence and rage we should intensify our work to share the beautiful and merciful message of the Deen especially now that the Prophet (s) is headline news. Let the Prophet's prayer of Taif be printed in European newspapers as the
example of his supreme magnanimity and patience.

Violence, death threats and fury only betray a lack of trust in the power and light of the sacred which is illustrated in the Prophet's experience in the garden outside Taif when persons who overheard his prayer were moved by it to come to Islam. Moreover, on the way back to Mecca after this experience, many jinn who happened to hear the Prophet's recitation of the Qur'an in his night prayer also came to Islam. And not long thereafter the Prophet (s) was conveyed on his night journey and ascent to heaven. Verily with difficulty comes ease.

Yet with the announcement by 'eminent' Muslim scholars of a 'Day of Outrage', I fear we have become nothing but saboteurs. Why not a Day of Remembrance of the Prophet, Why not a Day of Tremendous Prophetic Character? Why not a Day of the Prayer of Taif?

I recommend that we circulate the Prayer of Taif at this time as an antidote to all of the madness and poison of rage, violence and emotional maelstroms. May Allah guide us to that which is right and grant us the tremendous fortune of seeing our enemies as our close friends (see Qur’an 41:34-36) to whom we have the duty of conveying the reverence and love of Allah and his Prophet (s). Ameen.

Allah knows best.
Luqman Ali
03 February 2005

Friday, February 03, 2006

Haiku 3

Mihrab of the heart!
Like a golden fish leaping
In Spirit and Word

Mirador

Mirador
By
Katherine Randall

Maria stood on the Plaza in front of San Nicolas and looked across to the Alhambra. The view was dramatic with the River Darro running far below between the two hills on which San Nicolas and the Alhambra stood. She had walked up from the Plaza Nueva, through the Albaicin, to reach the Mirador, the view point which told so much of her own history and that of Granada.
Maria turned and gazed with affection at the portal of the San Nicolas Church that she had entered so often during her childhood. It was not her family’s local church, they lived in a small village just outside of Granada, but her grandmother lived in an apartment close to the old Arab quarter and when Maria stayed with her she would take her up the hill on one of the little Albaicin buses to visit the church and light a candle in front of the statue of the Virgin.
Initially Maria would resist visits to her grandmother. She did not like her parents leaving home for this or that business trip in promotion of their olive oil business. But as she grew a little older she longed for those visits. Abuela loved to spoil her vivacious little granddaughter with her favourite dish of migas and take her shopping for new clothes, like a flamenco dress, or soft, furry slippers in the shape of cuddly animals.
     ‘Come on, Maria. We are leaving Abuelo here to read his newspaper and drink his coffee while you and me go and do something exciting in town.’
‘I’ll be in the bar on the corner with my coffee, Maria Imaculada, you know that.’
     ‘Well, don’t stay there for too long, Jorge. I want a punctual lunch so that little Maria can sleep a little before we go up to San Nicolas.’
     ‘Candles for the Virgin again, eh! I’m sure the only reason you go up there so often is to stare across at the Alhambra with your head filled with all those romantic ideas of yours.’

Her memories of Abuela were precious and Maria was tempted to enter the church and light one last candle, but she desisted. She knew that if her grandmother could be here now that she would understand. The Virgin represented the prelude to this momentous day in Maria’s life and her grandmother had paved the way for her, it was in Abuela’s footsteps that she now followed, even though her grandmother could not have completed the journey in her lifetime; the law of the land had ruled against it.
Maria shared the same name with her mother and grandmother, it was a Spanish tradition, except the granddaughter had an additional name, that of Fatima. Abuela had pleaded for her to be named Maria Fatima, in honour of our Lady of Fatima, she had claimed.
     ‘It is not unusual for a Spanish woman to be called Fatima!’
‘But it is a Muslim name!’ exclaimed Maria’s father.
‘So what! It is also the name of the blessed town where our Virgin appeared to the shepherd children.’
Despite her father’s initial protests, he eventually relented under the insistence of his wife, ‘I think my mother has our ancestors in mind. She means no harm, and it’s in their honour. Besides, I used to have a friend in school called Fatima, it’s not that unusual. She became a nun,’ she argued.

Abuela died when Maria was in her early twenties and on her deathbed she had pulled Maria close to her and said, ‘Always light a candle for the Virgin on a Friday dear. It’s a family tradition. It’s in the name you know.’
     Looking now at the Alhambra, Maria smiled. ‘What did Abuela mean Mama? What about the name? Which name?’ It had taken Maria over a year to start questioning her mother.
     ‘Almudena,’ she stated one afternoon when they were chatting over coffee during the siesta, ‘Your surname that you inherited from me. It has been kept in the family for centuries and its origin practically forgotten until Abuela relentlessly questioned her grandmother.’
     ‘What about it then?’
     ‘It’s of Arab origin. It comes from ‘al-Madina’ meaning ‘the city’. Our ancestors were Muslims, Maria, until the Inquisition forced us to be baptised. But don’t worry yourself about it.’

Maria looked once again at the portal to San Nicolas, silently thanking Abuela, then she turned to her right and within a few paces she stood before another door. This was the entrance to the new mosque that had recently been completed. She entered and gazed at the mihrab, the niche which indicated the qibla, the direction of the Kaa’ba. Within that niche were verses from the Qur’an inscribed on its walls, verses that spoke of the Virgin and her son, and referred to her as ‘a mercy to the worlds.’
     ‘Our Lady, Prophet of peace, I am returning,’ Fatima spoke quietly.

Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006

If you are interested in reading about the opening of the new mosque in Granada then follow this link, it includes some lovely photos of the view to the Alhambra from the mosque and the Mirador: http://www.qalamonline.com/archives/000511.html

The following link tells the true and very moving story of a Spanish woman of Jewish descent: http://www.olam.org/treasure.php?issue=5&id=180

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