Saturday, September 15, 2012
Where Are The Voices Meditating On Love?
By AKBAR S. AHMED
Professor Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies
The American University in Washington D.C. ; and author of "Discovering Islam:
Making Sense of Muslim History and Society" (Routledge, 2002). You can find plenty more recent links to this scholar and peacemaker's work with a simple search. Here are just a few links: An interview by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show here Op Ed NYT here . Professor Ahmed also wrote the highly acclaimed book "Journey into Islam: the Crisis of Globalization" and led a film crew of youth on an amazing journey which was made into a film here
WHY I POSTED THIS PARTICULAR REFLECTION:
I awoke praying about the sudden turmoil in many places after a terribly misinformed hateful film seemed to be part of the trigger. When I found the following meditation by this sane and wise Professor, I had great peace and found this man and his words to be so comforting and uniting.
Professor Akbar S. Ahmed wrote the following after he was presented the gift of a book of poems of 'Sacred voices -- East and West':
Muslims are commonly equated in the media with "terrorists" and the Immigration and Naturalization Service's campaign to fingerprint Muslims in the United States has caused anger, dismay and paranoia in the community. The talk about war in Iraq and its possible consequences has been a further cause of concern. The ordinary Iraqi people are suffering terribly for no fault of theirs: first, the brutality of the dictator who rules over them; then the war over a decade ago, which isolated them from the world and created a wall of sanctions around them.
What struck me in the selection was the similarity in the theme and content of the poems: love, spiritual unity, and the oneness of creation. Western, Middle Eastern, and Indian sages; male and female; Muslim, Christian and Hindu -- if the name of the author was concealed it would be impossible to place his or her religion, sex, or region. Take the following six poems:
1. "Close to God":
"One may never have heard the sacred word `Christ," but be closer to God than a priest or nun.
2. "The Christ's Breath":
"I am a hole in a flute that the Christ's breath moves through, listen to this music."
3. "In my Soul":
"In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel. In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church that dissolve, that dissolve in God."
4. "He Asked for Charity":
"God came to my house and asked for charity. And I fell on my knees and cried, `Beloved, what may I give?' `Just love,' He said. `Just love.'"
5. "And Help Him Comfort":
"God has a special interest in women for they can lift this world to their breast and help Him comfort."
6. With Passion"
"With passion pray. With passion make love. With passion eat and drink and dance and play. Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of God?"
The first poem was written by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who is widely regarded as the greatest Catholic theologian. His experience led him to believe that all in creation were revelations of God's infinite, eternal, expanding being.
It would be logical to assume the second poem is written by a Christian. After all, it is suffused with love for Christ. But a Muslim, Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz (c.1320-1389), wrote it. Hafiz is the most beloved poet of Persia and considered to be one of history's greatest lyrical geniuses. Goethe wrote that "Hafiz has no peer."
The third poem is by Rabia of Basra (c.717-801) who is considered the most popular and influential female Muslim saint in the Sufi tradition. Born nearly 500 years before Maulana Jalaludin Rumi, she perhaps more than any other poet is said to have influenced his writing.
Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), perhaps the most beloved saint of the Western world wrote the fourth poem. The son of a wealthy merchant family, he gave up the good life to pursue his spiritual quest. Once in an old country chapel the painted figure of Jesus on the crucifix said to him, "Francis, go and repair my house, which, as you see, is falling completely to ruin." While in the Middle East there are accounts that St. Francis was in contact with Rumi's master, Shams. Rumi and St. Francis, the two great names in Abrahamic mysticism, thus have a point of contact which reflects their spiritual sense of unity.
The fifth poem is by Mirabai (c.1498-1550) considered the most renowned poet-saint of India. Although Mirabai was born a Hindu princess in Rajasthan in India, her songs are popular with Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in the subcontinent.
The final poem is by Rumi (1207-1273), one of the greatest poets in history. What is remarkable about Rumi is his rebirth in our time. He is one of the most popular poets in America. Considering that he was born eight centuries ago in Balkh, Afghanistan, a land that in American minds was until recently associated with the Taliban, this is remarkable indeed. Rumi has transcended time and space to touch our hearts in the 21st century.
Reading the poems I was once again struck by what was common within the great faiths. The voices in this tradition reflect universal compassion and eternal wisdom in their love of the divine. The glowing beauty of their message spreads far from their place of birth and remains to uplift us today. It is a message more relevant than ever in our time of rampant materialism, seductive consumerism and widespread violence.
But as I meditated on the love poems from God, I was also confronted with a disturbing question: where are the voices meditating on love in the 21st century?
Further note from author about the inspiration for this meditation:
Judith Latham (worked for a news service) invited me to speak on Islam to her congregation at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Arlington, Va. As a token of friendship, she presented me with the book, "Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West," edited by Daniel Ladinsky. Judith is a compassionate person and I suspect she thought the poems would uplift me at a time when the discussion around Islam tends to be depressing. She was right. I was not only uplifted but even diverted from the headlines and television news. The drumbeat of war faded in my ears.
Photo credit goes to this amazingly evocative site here
I found this meditation listed with the following news service and received permission September 15, 2012 to post the same on this site, No More Crusades (by Connie L. Nash):
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transmission may be reproduced without written permission. Index of Daily Report
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Posted by CN at 8:20 AM