its all you

A while ago I attended a class at a masjid in which the sisters sat on a balcony overlooking the brothers’ area, and that has a microphone system set up so that everyone could hear.  A few minutes into the class a group of sisters came in with a number of children and starting having Quran lessons.  The noise they made effectively drowned out the voice of the shaykh, and I spent the majority of the class struggling to hear what I could from the lesson, and giving meaningful glances to the group to keep their voices down.


It was so frustrating to be there, ready to learn, with my book open, looking at the teacher and seeing him speak, knowing he was sharing beneficial knowledge with everyone, but not being able to access it because of the noise around me. 


It made me think about how often we must be in this same situation in terms of the spiritual realm… missed opportunities for knowledge, enlightenment, or remembrance due to inner static, distractions and noise… from sins, heedlessness, carelessness…  and we walk away from gatherings of knowledge wondering why we don’t feel any different.


I read an interesting phrase in my Mustalah book the other day, that knowledge is “fi butoon al kutub wa sudoor al ulema” (lit. in the stomachs of books and the chests of the scholars).  The last thing in this world I want to be is a book, just digesting information that I’m learning and storing it up like caloric intake, and without feeling.  I want it to be in my chest, my heart, pumping in my blood, felt like a human being.  But how can it be, if it’s drowned out by things that are already present there?


Ibn ‘Ataa’Illah said in his Hikam:


Rubamaa waradat ‘alayka al-anwaar

Fa wajadat il-qalbu mahshuwan bil-aathaar

Fartahalat min haythu nazalat


“Perhaps illuminations (ma’rifah…) passed by you and found your qalb (heart) filled, buried, occupied with vestiges of creation.  So it took off from whence it had come.”


Imam Shaf’ii said,


My knowledge is with me, and wherever I turn it follows me,

For my heart is its vessel, and not a ‘chest’ stored at home.

(Written June 2007)


Published in: on January 30, 2009 at 5:34 am  Comments (8)  

ties that bind

I know of a bond that connects soul to soul, in a way much deeper than familiarity or blood.

Forged by Divine decree. Duly registered as apportioned Rizq.

The Teacher and the Student meet somewhere before time, and they are eternally connected.

A teacher of religion opens whole worlds to his pupil: the secrets of this life, the spiritual realm, the Divine and the self. Perfection and imperfection.

He is visionary, he is powerful. He is the guide, and you are the lost traveler.

If he is true, he will lead you to Paradise, step by careful step.

‘Empty your cup.’

Come blank, empty, open, so that you can receive.

You must take humility as your cloak.

But what of ties that strangle?

You believe that if you submit to him and his Way, you are guided.

You will no longer be lost.

The path to Allah is clear.  It is at his feet.

He will take you by the hand to safe shores.

His love for you is overwhelming. So he will shape you, mind and soul, and purge you of your evils.

Soul, did you not think, when you laid your whole being in his gentle hands: What if he missteps?

Is he not formed by his experiences, by the ties that bind him?

This deen is wide. Why do you narrow it?

You must craft your cup from the firm clay of knowledge, and bake it to solidity in the heat of courage, deep thinking, and dependence on Allah alone.

And engrave on its side, in a delicate script, the following words:

Beauty lies in intelligent, mindful devotion.

Every love has an adab.

Even dervishes must have ijaaza before they spin.

I am no feather in the wind, nor an unmoulded being.

I am an empty cup, with a solid base and a structured rim,

Firm against passion. Shaped for sacred words.

I fill with good, whatever its source, and pour out wrong.

Sidi Ahmed Zarruq (of the 9th century Hijri) said: There are no more perfect teachers. We benefit from the good in people, and we leave the rest.

Published in: on July 11, 2007 at 9:31 pm  Comments (5)  


I want to lose myself in these crowded streets, in the mix of strangers, unrecognized to others and to myself. I want to efface my self in this new, exotic place, until no one knows my name, and if I hear it I wonder at the strangeness of its sound.

I want to leave behind everything that makes me ‘me’ and become something else.

The manner of my speech, the shape of my smile, the slant of my writing… every ingrained habit and every natural trait… everything that forges my being. Indestructible prejudices, ignorance, envy, cowardice, foolishness, laziness, tiredness… wasted moments, unspoken truths, a sharp tongue and a sharper heart. Missed prayers, judgements about others, hypocricies hidden deep. Wounds, black and bloody, that have never healed. Sorrows, regrets, and grief. Unfulfilled dreams and broken hopes. Trivial facts and countless images before my minds eye. The life I was born into, and the life that was born into me.

I want to wrap all these things up in a plain white sheet and go deep into the desert, away from the travelled roads, somewhere between Damascus and Tidmor, until I find some desolate, lonely spot. There, I want to bury it beneath the brittle, dry soil, six feet under, layering handful after handful of sand on top, until the ground evens out and the desert becomes a single solid entity once again. And I want to walk away, and never remember where it’s buried.

I want to drink from the cup of death, but only a small sip – only enough to taste its sweetness. Only enough to become new again, with no past, no planned future, no restricted present. That’s all I want…

just blank pages, and a soul with which to write.

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 8:57 am  Comments (3)  

it just slips away…

Is there such a thing as knowing too much? Having a million facts swimming in your head, readily able to answer questions that may be asked of you of religion, but not being able to answer simple questions within yourself: why are you stupid? Why don’t your actions meet your words? Why do you carry this basket of sorrows and resentments and bad opinions of God with you everywhere you go, yet you speak of Him as if you are one that knows Him?

My teacher in the U.S. would talk about this all the time. He would say, ‘knowledge is not of any benefit if it’s just in your head or on your tongue. It’s something that needs to sink down into your heart, it’s something that needs to be *felt*, experienced, acted upon, for it to have meaning.’ and I would dutifully note this down in my notebook, next to all my other detailed, organized notes from his classes. And then when he finished, I would close my book and go home, and put it away with all my other notebooks that I had collected and filled over the years, and go about my business.

What do years and years of doing this do to a soul, except weigh it down with knowledge that is not really knowledge? Absorbing information about what I should be doing, about the path I should be trekking, as I sit idly by and watch others move on? A million conferences, seminars, classes, and halaqas… a hundred million words about God fill my mind, but they are hollow and empty, because they have not been acted upon. I sit. I laze. I shy away from the harshness of cleansing my soul. I learn Arabic, but every orientalist knows Arabic. I practice tajweed, but a billion CDs in the world articulate the Quran better than me. I accumulate facts upon facts about this deen, storing them away, for an unset future time when I will be ready for them. but what I don’t seem to understand is that knowledge that is not acted upon slips away, like sand in a clenched fist. you think you’re holding on to something, only to wake up one day and find that, the whole time, you’ve been tightly grasping nothing at all…

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

e. a. poe

Published in: on February 2, 2007 at 1:38 pm  Comments (6)  


come on now. why do we have to be so formal? let’s be truthful here.
let’s speak with the sharp tongue of Sidq,
cutting away syntax and rhetoric and measure.
lets be all e e cummings about it
and let our words flow with no thought to punctuation or the brevity of a line or the length of it
and be real.
lets leave behind the shackles of the ‘chicago manual of style’
or sibawayhi’s magnum opus
and let our hearts do the talking.

let them speak of gardens beyond the reach of human imagination
beyond the scope of words or the meanings of words
let them speak of knowledge that cannot be derived from studying
the black and white pattern of pen to paper
nor the sophisticated articulation of the scholar
but only felt with the beat of the heart
libraries full of wasted words
failed attempts at describing
what can only be tasted.

how can you put into words, tell me
the searing ache and bitterness
of not knowing Him.
the shrivelling and darkness of the heart
broken and seeking.
looking for comfort in all the wrong places.

how about the foolish traveller
making his way through desert and blinding sun
searching out a quenching for the thirst thats killing him,
and not realizing that it lies within his own self.

thats us. dizzy and stirred on by this deep longing
our hearts travelling ancient lands and deserts
with this utter craving that overwhelms us
but beyond our tongues ability to describe

to know Him, to love Him, to be loved by Him.

Published in: on December 29, 2006 at 9:57 am  Comments (4)  

the greatest gift

Shaykh Abdul Ghani an-Nabulsi was a famous scholar and ‘man of Allah’ who lived in Damascus. The masjid where he used to teach and in which he is buried (Jami’a Nabulsi) is just a few blocks from my home; his grandson, carrying on the noble family tradition from his father, from his father, is the resident scholar and imam there now.

One of my teachers mentioned this story about Sh. Abdul Ghani:

Whenever he used to feel constraint in his heart and narrowness in his chest, which happens when one’s eman needs to be renewed and increased, Sh. Abdul Ghani would go and visit the hospitals of Damascus. He would, in seeing the ill and weak, become more conscious of the blessings Allah had bestowed upon him; and he would also pray for those in need.

One day when he was about to enter a hospital specialized for those with leprosy, he saw a man being kicked out from it onto the street: he was a leper, his body broken and decaying, and about to die. The hospital attendants could do no more for him. Seeing this man in such a pitiful state moved Sh. Abdul Ghani’s heart, and he raised his hands to pray for him, when he heard him say: “Ya Abdul Ghani! Do not stand between me and my Lord.”

In astonishment, Sh. Abdul Ghani asked, “How is it that you know my name?”

The man said, “The ones who know Allah know the ones who know Allah.”

The shaykh asked, “If you are of the ones who know Allah, then why don’t you ask Him to heal you?”

He said, “I see others with perfect bodies, but with hearts that are damaged, broken, and disfigured. And yet Allah has blessed me with a sound, healthy, whole heart. So I am content with Him; and can ask for no more.”


A beggar.“A penny for Allah, a penny for Allah? Doesn’t anyone have a penny they can give me for Allah’s sake?”

“May Allah bless you! May Allah grant you a long life! Give some food to those in need! Don’t you have something to give?”

“A small sadaqah is big in Allah’s sight… A small sadaqah…? Can’t you give me a small sadaqah, may Allah reward you?”

Among beggars.

“Is there anyone who can give something to this beggar? A whole heart? Is there anyone giving away a pure, whole heart?”

For a whole heart, I would give the life of this world: every moment of monotone emotion felt, every numb pleasure that kills my soul, every restless feeling that eats away inside.

For a whole heart, I would give away all my broken dreams, gathering each piece from it’s scattered place, blown in every direction by the winds of confusion and desire.

For a whole heart, I would give all of my bitter tears, shed from mistaken hurts and affected wrongs, or complexities that I myself constructed.

For a whole heart, I would give my own tongue that speaks ill instead of truth.

I would give my very eyes, that see the night sky in all it’s splendor, and that still choose slumber over vigil.

I would give my soul, troubled and heavy, always foolishly choosing darkness over Light.

But who would accept this currency or this exchange?

I’m just a poor beggar, with nothing to give. Instead, I depend on the compassion of the Owner to fulfill my needs, and be generous with me, though I have nothing to give Him in return; my worthless possessions clutched tight.

sign me,

(as br. haroon sellars used to say)

–the poor and in need of Allah.

Published in: on December 14, 2006 at 1:43 pm  Comments (7)  

another year gone by

The day I turned twenty three (just a few days ago), was hectic.  I didn’t spend too much time reflecting on how fast the days are spinning by, or how it really seems like just yesterday I was sixteen, with a million ideas for my future in mind…  and now I’m twenty-three, and still a long way from achieving the things that I’ve always wanted.  I’m just asking Allah on a daily basis for some seriousness of purpose, for focus and discipline, for an escape from cowardice and laziness and the fulfillment of all the potential I know Allah (swt) has instilled in me.  In a blink I will be thirty, forty, seventy… and wonder how so many days blur together and how it can all be done with so quickly.  This life is a dream; and the next is wakefulness. 

I constantly feel the need to do something truly meaningful for my soul… I feel like I’m on the right path here in Shaam, meeting people who are so much further along the path than I am  There’s a girl in my class from Singapore, whose Quran recitation has got to be one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.  When she recites, I feel like every quiet desire inside of me is awoken and my soul just sings.  

It’s scary to think that in short while, we’ll all be returning home as ‘the ones who’ve studied deen’; while so many deficiencies and inner sicknesses are not at all remedied.  I have a teacher here who says that we Westerners tend to be ‘messy’ – internally, spiritually, and I don’t want to go back until I’m all cleaned up.  How can I go back, having neither achieved anything meaningful for myself, nor with the ability to extend that benefit to others?  Invited to drink from a Blessed Pool; and neither satiating my own thirst, nor carrying anything to nourish others that are equally thirsty. 

 Wa maa astaqamtu, famaa qawliy laka “istaqim”? 

I was not steadfast; so of what value is my saying to you, ‘Be steadfast!’?  

 Pray for me and those of us here on the ‘path’, but getting lost along the way…

Published in: on December 12, 2006 at 5:05 am  Comments (5)