The Path We Need

August 27, 2005

“The fact that a path exists at all indicates that people before us had walked on it. If we do not recognise our predecessors, the path would disappear from our perception and we would not be able to take another step. When we look around, we only see wilderness and chaos. Any steps we take would be filled with uncertainty, further augmenting our anxiety. Not only would we feel lost, but also alone. This is how we are today — lost, alone and surrounded by wilderness and chaos. If you are still reading the newspapers, you’ll read about someone who gave up their life in despair or in anger.

We must ask ourselves, ‘Where are we heading?’ ”

So reads the Editorial in the inaugural issue of The Path, a Singapore-based publication on Islamic Spirituality. Contributors include, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, and Prof. William Chittick.

Look out for Prof. Chittick’s quintessentially illuminating essay, “Can The Islamic Intellectual Heritage Be Recovered?” … he writes, “It is impossible to be a Muslim without taqlid, because one cannot discover the Qur’an or the practices of the Shariah by oneself. Just as language is learned by imitation, so also the Qur’an and Islamic practice are learned by imitating those who know them.”

Title: The Path, Issue 1 — Spirituality: An Islamic Tradition

Say What You Mean, Or Stand In Hopeless Confusion

August 24, 2005

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant;
if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone;
if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate;
if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in hopeless confusion.
Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said.
This matters above everything. — The Analects of Confucius

17 Bad Traits, 1 Lifetime to Cure Them

August 22, 2005

The Sufi Science of Self-Realization: A Guide to the 17 Ruinous Traits, The 10 Steps to Discipleship, 6 Realities of the Heart

From the moment I picked up the book and flipped to Mahmoud Shelton’s* Preface, I had the beginnings of the sense that this was no ordinary book.

The ruinous traits within us all are described in this book. Who needs to know this? Well, everyone. No one is safe from these traits and everyone is obliged to try to rid himself or herself of these traits.

I think its also worth mentioning that the book is very well-structured and can thus be approached by almost anyone, including those who are otherwise unfamiliar with this branch of Islamic knowledge.

Title: The Sufi Science of Self-Realization
Author: Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

*Mahmoud Shelton wrote the book, ‘Alchemy in Middle-Earth: The Significance of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings’.

To Succeed, Don’t Plan

August 15, 2005

The main theme of the Book of Illumination is ‘desisting from selfish calculation’. The rather awkward phrase, ’selfish calculation’ is a translation of the concept of administrating/arranging for one’s self.

Shaykh Ibn Ata Illah al-Iskandari talks about the ego’s disposition for self-calculation, anxiety and worry. With intricate arguments, logic and rhetoric — all infused with Islamic principles from the Quran and Sunnah — he coaxes the reader to reflect upon the futility of self-calculation. Self-calculation is, at best, self-delusion as the Shaykh reminds us that God has been arranging our affairs from before we came to be. Self-calculation, or our belief that we can arrange our affairs in any meaning way, is actually detrimental to our physical and spiritual well-being.

It has to be said that this book is not about radical asceticism or about being fatalistic. It is about checking our persistent ego-centric tendencies, such as greed, hoarding, self-interest, vanity, etc. This ‘checking’ is an important area of study within traditional Islamic Spirituality. It is especially relevant now when the ‘un-checked’ habit of acquisition, consumerism and egotism is couched in newspeak as ‘market-forces’, ‘progress’ and ‘freedom’. In a sense, this book goes to first principles and that is, our Ego’s desire to plan for itself, unchecked, without a second thought towards the Creator.

We also compartmentalize things around us. We view our work, religion, affiliations as separate compartments. In this way, we do not see the disharmony in being at once a pious muslim and an unethical executive. Perhaps it is this disharmony that has made us find little solace in worship and has led to a slew of problems that are outwardly manifested in depression, anxiety, insomnia and marital instability. If this is happening at the individual level, can you imagine the ramifications on the society as a whole?

The Book of Illumination makes the case, with evidence and argument, that desisting from selfish calculation is vital for our spiritual healing and growth. At the same time, it gives us advice on living and working in this world, without unduly attaching our hearts to it. Our hearts are to be content with God and His calculation, then perhaps, there may grow in our hearts — illumination.

Title: The Book of Illumination
Author: Shaykh Ibn Ata Illah Al-Iskandari

Why Are We Here?

August 9, 2005

On being here:
“Al-Ghazali sees the reason for us being here is to love God”

On remembering:
“One is to constantly repeat “Allah, Allah”, with the heart, not with the tongue. Indeed, one should not (even) say it with the heart, for this uttering is like talking to oneself. Rather, one must be continually in a state of witnessing so as never to be inattentive.” — Alchemy of Imam al-Ghazali

Both quotes from:
Al-Ghazali: His Psychology of the Greater Struggle
Author: Laleh Bakhtiar

Rumi, The Slave of the Quran

August 8, 2005

I am the slave of the Quran while I still have life,
I am dust on the path of Muhammad, The Chosen One,
If anyone interprets my words in any other way,
I deplore that person and I deplore his words. — Rumi

It was as if Maulana Rumi knew that his words would be misunderstood and mistranslated, especially by those unfamiliar with Islam. As can be seen from the translation of one of his quatrains shown above, no one should interpret Rumi’s speech and poetry as having meanings that do not conform to the revelation and to the practice of Islam.

Some western scholars have said that Rumi was not Muslim, but was some kind of ‘universal sufi’ who did not belong to any religion. Some, have even gone so far as to say that his poetry reflect homosexual love! They are attempting to force-fit the poetry of Rumi to popular culture. May God guide us all to the truth.

This issue of Islamica, issue #13, attempts to frame Rumi as what he really was — an orthodox Muslim, a Hanafi scholar, a Poet … and a Sufi (It goes without saying, but I feel I need to stress this point, that though not all muslims are sufis, all sufis are muslim.)

Title: ISLAMICA Magazine, Issue 13

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