Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Digital art by Rahal Eks - dancers pausing


Nowadays February 14 is worldwide known as Valentine's Day, or the day of the lovers. The historical roots of Valentine's Day are numerous, going back to various Christian martyrs who were called Valentine or Valentinus. Some claim also a link to the much earlier Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival from Pagan times, or relate it to the ancient Athenian calendar where the period between mid-January until mid-February was the month called 'Gamelion', which was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Unfortunately in some countries such a day related to love and lovers would have to be forbidden under puritanical-religious and fanatical sectarian ideas and rules – even though the Qur'an clearly says “...there shall not be compulsion in religion...” It makes one wonder in utter disbelief how some folks argue against this, insisting to spread their intolerant view as the only true reality – of course it isn't! While in other countries this day or a similar celebration takes place on a different date. Here too diversity is striking on a global scale. And as long as the celebration of love is not denied it doesn't really matter what's the date.

For example in Brazil the Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12! While Feb. 14 sometimes falls right into the period when Carnival takes place.

Or in Israel there is the Jewish tradition of Tu B'Av, which has fused into the secular Jewish equivalent of Valentine's Day and is celebrated on the 15th of the month of Av = usually in late August.

In antiquity in India, a long time prior to colonization and thus prior to imported prudishness, there was the ancient tradition of adoring the lord of Love, Kamadeva, shown beautifully by the erotic carvings and sculptures in the Khajuraho complex of monuments and the famous KAMASUTRA lovemaking treaty.

In Greece the Eastern Orthodox Church has another Saint, Hyacinth of Caesarea. He protects people who are in love and the feast is on July 3.

In Persian culture there is the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan festival, an earth celebration where love is expressed to mothers and wives. In contemporary Iran the holiday has been scheduled on Feb. 17, just to be different in regards to the Western holiday.

Universal souls have probably no problem whatsoever to celebrate all these dates and festivities, after all the spirit is love, isn't it? Perhaps some might delight in reading Rumi's DIVAN SHAMSUDDIN TABRIZI – others might get elevated by some of Ibn 'Arabi's condensed thoughts and reflections about love, wonderfully presented and commented by William C. Chittick in his DIVINE ROOTS OF HUMAN LOVE. Yet others would get carried away by the beautiful Classical Arabic poetry of pre-Islamic times of Antar Ibn Shadat's MUALAQAT, an epic love poem written in gold leaf and placed on the walls of Mecca in ancient time together with the other seven odes by different Arab poets of that period. Just for the time reference: Antar was an old man when the Prophet Muhammad – PBUH – was born.

There is a Sufi saying that “sensual love is the shadow of mystical love...” Meaning that love for a human being is a kind of lower form of love than for the Divine – however, sensual or human love is required on the path to advance in order to develop love for the Divine, in other words, human love can have an evolutionary impact, but not always and not automatically. It can be, or it may be so, under certain circumstances.

In this context it is of great interest to hear that Maulana Jami asked those who wanted to become his students if they had ever loved?

If we look at the myth of Eros who aims his arrow at those who when pierced in their hearts will fall in love, we get the idea that love might be a divine gift. And when reading Plato's Symposium, or Banquet, we find out that one of the men present explains the nature of love in the form of a tale being told to the guests. In my retold words, he said that prior to the existence of the human race there were round beings rolling around on the earth. They had two faces, four arms and four legs. Some of them were male and female – others were all female – and yet others were all male. These beings began to behave arrogantly and outrageous, so the Gods on Mount Olympus had a brain storming session to decide what to do with these beings. After long arguments in pro and contra (to kill them or let them live), a compromise was agreed upon. It was decided to cut each of these beings in half, thus keeping them busy to search for their other half...

This gives us a symbolic explanation why we have different types of sexualities (heterosexuals, and homosexuals – both in the female and male variation). Of course this tale doesn't explain what we call nowadays inter-sexed and transgender identities, not to forget asexuals, just to be fair and mention it all.

Now some people seem to fall in love blindly in a stupid or nutty way (regardless if they happen to be straight, gay, lesbian, inter-sexed or transgender folks). Others don't and progress from a crush on someone to falling in love and loving a person – whoever it may be to fulfill their natural heart's desire and attraction. Remember, no matter what, from a Sufi perspective a person's sexuality is God-given, created by Allah, and thus it ought to be accepted. The difference between falling in love blindly or somewhat more refined and aware is most likely a reflection of the development of the nafs, the commanding self – or the lack of its development.

No matter where people stand on their evolutionary ladder, relationships are a perfect tool to refine the commanding self, the nafs, and grow on multiple levels. In my view this includes romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, as well as work relationships.

Sufism is indeed focused on the field of action regarding relationships and the transformation of the lower self: “From base metal into gold” - as the alchemical Sufi saying goes.

Coming back to love. I have never experienced that I decided to fall in love, nor have I met anyone who did. It happened or it didn't. Or is there anyone ready to come up with a different take on that?

And coming back to the Divine, there is of course the famous hadith qudsi of the Hidden Treasure, meaning a sacred hadith where God is the speaker: “I was a treasure that was not known, so I loved to be known. Hence I created the creatures and I made Myself known to them, and thus they came to know Me.”

In this very context Ibn 'Arabi's poem found in the FUTUHAT MAKKIYYA resonates with special overtones: From love we originate. For love we were created. That is what we aim for and it is to this we have given ourselves.

And he also wrote: To my own soul I was wed and I was my husband while I was my wife.

However, Ibn 'Arabi's most famous lines are the following from his TARJUMAN AL-ASHWAQ, the Interpreter of Desires, which are very suited in my view to be read on Valentine's Day:

Oh marvel! A garden amidth fires!
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a table for idols and the pilgrim's Kaaba
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur'an.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

In 1382 Goeffrey Chaucer wrote his PARLEMENT OF FOULES, where we can find an early association of Valentine's Day with romantic love: For this was on seynt Volantynys day whan euery bryd cometh to cheese his make. (For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate).

And in 15th century France we find some surviving early French Valentine's poetry by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné
ma tres doulce Valentinée...

Also William Shakespeare mentions Valentine's Day in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.

We also mustn't forget Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, longing for greater wholeness and the beautiful words of Antonio Machado, who wrote:

Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt – marvelous error! -
that it was God I had
inside my heart.

Have a blessed and loving Valentine's Day – how can love be forbidden?

Ishq bashad, may love be upon you, a Persian Sufi greeting – or in Arabic: Ishq aleikum!

Saludos, con Dios, Rahal Eks

Monday, January 26, 2015

Upcoming Urs of Abdulqadr Jilani on February 1, 2015 by Rahal Eks

Sheikh Abdulqadr Jilani's turba  in Baghdad

Sayyed Muhyiddin Abu Muhammad Abdulqadr Al-Jilani Al-Hassani Wal-Hussaini, called the Sultan Al-Awliya, Ghaus-e-Aazam and Jangi Dust, was born 11 Rabi al-Thani 470 A.H. or 1078 C.E. in Gilan in Persia. From his father's side he was 'Hassani' and from his mother's side 'Hussaini', meaning he was a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad – PBUH – via Ali and Fatima and both their children Hassan and Hussain.

His first name 'Muhyiddin' means 'Reviver of Religion' and 'Abdulqadr' means 'Servant of the Able'.

Abdulqadr was educated in Baghdad where he studied Law and Hadith, as well as being trained in Tasawwuf, the Sufi Tradition.

After the completion of his education he left Baghdad and spent 25 years as a reclusive wandering dervish in the desert regions of Iraq. He returned to Baghdad in 1127 C.E. and began to teach: in the mornings Hadith and Tafsir, and in the afternoons Sufism, the Path of the Heart.

Abdulqadr was one of the rare teachers who reconciled exoteric religion with esoteric mysticism. His books include FUTUH AL-GHAIB (Revelations of the Unseen), which are 78 powerful and to the point discourses – AL-FATH AR-RABBANI (The Sublime Revelations), 62 somewhat longer discourses given in Baghdad between 545-546 A.H. - KITAB SIRR AL-ASRAR WA MAZHAR AL-ANWAR (The Book of the Secret of the Secrets and the Manifestation of Light), as well as numerous other works.

Maulana Abdulqadr Jilani passed away – aged 89 years according to the Islamic lunar calendar – in 561 A.H. (1166 C.E.). His shrine is located in Baghdad on the East bank of the Tigris. The Qadiriyya Sufi Tariqa received its name from Abdulqadr. It is one of the big main Sufi Orders, next to the Chishtis and Naqshbandis, for example. The Urs or Wisal is the passing away date – called the Wedding Feast with the Beloved. Abdulqadr's Urs falls in 2015 on Feb. 1 of the Gregorian calendar. His spiritual impact went way beyond Tariqa borders and is still felt today on a global scale. For example in Morocco it is quite common among the syncretic Gnaoua Brotherhoods to invoke the Baraka of Abdulqadr Jilani before starting a Leila, a spiritual night with trance music and dance for cleaning and healing purposes.

Maulana Abdulqadr Jilani is one of the very important figures of the Sufi Tradition, respected and loved by many dervishes and Sufis worldwide. He was reported to have a tremendous Baraka and special spiritual powers that gave rise to numerous inspirational stories and tales.

Ishq bashad, saludos con Dios, Rahal Eks

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Qur'an does not forbid images of the Prophet - PBUH

A Persian miniature of the Prophet Muhammad - PBUH and the Angel Jibril (Gabriel)

Feel free to delight in the wonderful newsweek article by Christiane Gruber - a scholar specializing in Islamic paintings of the Prophet - with a link below. I am very happy reading these reaffirming historical facts, even though I already knew them before due to the lucky circumstances of having received a liberal education and a multicultural Sufi training. Plus being a critical soul at heart and an artist who at times indulges with great pleasure in figurative painting, as well as not having been influenced by negative indoctrination and conditioning of certain doubtful sources of reasoning or rather the lack of common sense.

As much as articles of this type make me happy, I also feel saddened by the very unfortunate trend trying to deny certain historical facts and pretending that Islamic art has always been entirely abstract and non-figurative - this is wrong. Just check the article below and you get more than just a hint of the beautiful figurative facts!

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal

Saturday, January 10, 2015



I know, I'm ahead of time. But better too early than too late! Next Sunday in a week, Jan. 18, 2015 is officially declared to be "World Religion Day". I'm supposed to write some lines about this very theme and at this very point in time I have to admit that I have some serious problems doing so easily and effortlessly because a) I'm not feeling very well at all for various very personal reasons at this moment - I seriously even toyed with the idea to permanently close my workshop and call it a day, but I guess I have to at least try and hang on in here doing my little bit, whatever it adds up to - and b) I am very shaken by the recent events taking place on our beloved planet Earth. Some of that has to do with religion or rather what some fanatical people think it is. I can't help it but hear in my mind the famous John Lennon song "IMAGINE" and I do imagine it! Frequently! And vividly! Especially these days!

Currently I have also seriously toyed with the idea to officially declare that I no longer consider myself a Muslim or religious in any way, but that wouldn't be the entire whole-hearted truth, even though I actually do consider myself more spiritual than religious and would thus call the Sufi Tradition as an alive form of spirituality my true home. On the other hand I should not give up my right to claim progressive and universal all-inclusive contemporary Islam as my own rightful faith, even if I am a queer man, and that beyond Sunni/Shia division and beyond any adherence to this, that or the other madhab, or legal school of interpretation - after all Ibn 'Arabi didn't belong to any of those schools, nor did the Prophet Muhammad, PBUH. 

But I do have a problem with certain aspects of orthodox religions and some contemporary manifestations in East and West, not just with Islam. I am per se utterly allergic to any form of extremism, violence and fanaticism, and when homopbobia and xenopbobia or racism are expressed under the banner of faith, no matter which. I am also allergic to all those types of people who claim to be the only true believers and who disregard the equal rights of women, LGBT people, minorities and human rights per se. Those who are incapable of accepting and tolerating other people's religious or spiritual beliefs or the lack of them and who have a problem with freedom, pluralism, humor, and satire. 

I got news for you: God (no matter how you call him) does have sense of humor! You can bank on that! Regardless if you like it or not. Too bad if laughter is not on your list of religious duties towards yourself and the world we all share. 

Hermann Hesse once expressed a very spot on fact, that one can become wise in any religion. But that any religion can also be practiced as the most stupid idolatry. We can see that in humanity's history and still in our contemporary times, wherever we turn there are words of wisdom and light - and there are words of hatred and darkness. This has basically nothing to do with religion per se, but rather with the nature of human beings. In short, it boils down to lack of education, ignorance, the lack of personal perspective, and a problem with the commanding self, the ego or nafs. 

I can also find words of wisdom, true knowledge and refined beauty in numerous religions and their cultures, apart from Islam and the Sufi Tradition, and I utterly appreciate the rich diversity when it comes to faith and its global manifestations. Perhaps some forms are easier to relate to than others, however, I do delight in the variety and richness of its different ways and forms. And I'm convinced that each of them has its right to exist and its useful function - excluded are only those who preach hatred, violence and intolerance! Those who are not in harmony with the evolutionary Zeitgeist and our destiny. That must be said clearly and firmly! 

From the Sufi Tradition there is tale that the truth was a mirror and it fell down and broke into many pieces. People picked up the pieces and then the devil came and whispered into their ears, convincing them to make a religion out of each piece of the mirror. If we could only see them as parts of a higher unity / totality instead of drawing excluding borders and claiming our tribe to be the only true possessor of the reflected truth of reality, Al-Haqq. 

Also from the Sufi Tradition is the following symbolism: When doing sama, the whirling or turning dance, the dervish doing so is firmly anchored in Oneness or God's Unity with his left leg as the axis around which to turn, like an inner Alif - and with the right leg traveling through all the existing religions and spiritual traditions. 

I also remember some periods in human history where in certain parts multicultural and multi-religious societies coexisted and co-created very thriving and refined and beautiful cultures - just to give two keywords here as examples: Al-Andalus and Moghul India. 

Rumi has a beautiful line for our World Religion Day theme: "The lamps are different, but the light is the same!"

And he also said: "Although you make a hundred knots, the string continues to be one!"

Try to celebrate World Religion Day in the spirit of "unity within diversity" and enjoy it! 

Ya Haqq! Ishq bashad, saludos, Rahal (you are welcome to send me some positive vibes for my recovery and insh'Allah feeling better soon, thank you very much - going back on retreat mode)...

Thursday, January 01, 2015

MAWLID AN-NABI - the Prophet's Birthday

Miniature from Rashid-ud-Din Hamdani's Jami Al-Tawarikh
(ca. 1315) - illustrating the resetting of the Black Stone in
615 by Muhammad the Prophet, PBUH.

On the evening of January 2 starts the corresponding beginning of the the day of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, in Arabic known as Mawlid An-Nabi. May peace and blessings be upon him! 

How could we not celebrate the upcoming birthday of this most remarkable and inspirational man who on one hand was Allah's chosen last Prophet sent as a blessing to humankind. He is also considered by others as the first Sufi Master since the esoteric tradition took on the name Sufi - and he stands for the role model of Al-Insan Al-Kamil, the perfected human being. 

There are multiple aspects to this man - we have the historical Muhammad, who should be seen and perceived as a revolutionary and the person to become the seal of Prophets - and we have the symbol he stands for, the esoteric Muhammad, the universal man. 

Without doubt he is among the most influential people of this planet and apart from the religious and spiritual impact he stands for there is also the important point of being the initiator for what was later called Islamic culture and which during his lifetime went way beyond the borders of Arabia and spread far indeed, fusing on the way with the surrounding cultures and absorbing elements into the wide and diverse multicultural fabric of the emerging Islamic World. 

It has been reported that he was handsome, pure and wise and he has been depicted in many miniatures and paintings from the past and present, an example is the beautiful piece of art above. It just proves that figurative art does exist in the context of Islamic tradition, including the depiction of the very Prophet himself and unveiled as such! And why not? 

But there are those who claim figurative painting is forbidden, as well as all art, music, dance, celebrations of a joyful nature, including harmless birthdays. Those who claim such a position may of course be free to not celebrate anything, not look at art, not read books, not dance, and ignorare all birthdays, including the one of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, PBUB. But we should not allow those people to stop us in our diverse ways of celebration, in our diverse religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, and in our very diverse lifestyles. It is up to us to reclaim religion and practice spirituality and lead free and empowered lives without wasting time to listen to those who preach hatred, fear, and an uncivilized intolerant way of life. No! No to hatred! No to fear! No to cultural terrorism or any form of terrorism, compulsion and dominance. 

Compulsion in religion is not allowed according to the Qur'an! Remember?

The antidote to Boko Haram (books are forbidden) and similar ticking barbaric extremist folks is: "A book a day keeps ignorance away!"

In this spirit I'd like to recommend a biography published by Tractus Books, entitled "MUHAMMAD: THE PROPHET" by the Sirdar Ikbal Ali-Shah. It is written in contemporary modern English and brings us the Prophet very close, as well as understanding the historic and cultural and religious settings of that far away era. It is not spiked with pious expressions and mysterious statements to wonder and ponder - instead, it is a down to earth informative and well written book that made me see and comprehend the role of the Prophet of Islam in a much better and clearer light that made sense from the perspective of our times. 

I know, I'm slightly ahead of time - but that is my motto for this year and hopefully ever after too. Wishing you a very unique and personal upcoming Mawlid An-Nabi celebration (either in private because the surround is not supportive of such an event - or out and about - whatever feels right to you)! 

Just as a final info of interest: The great Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi sent his prayers of peace to the Prophet Muhammed at his birthday, PBUH. Rumi used the name Mustafa, when doing so, which means the Chosen One. 

Rumi wrote: 

Naagaah be-ruyid yaki shaakh-e-nabaat
Naagaah be-jushid chonin aab-e-hayaat
Naagaah rawaan shod ze shahenshah sadaqat
Shaadi rawaan-e-mostafa raa salawaat

A branch of candy grew suddenly.
The water of eternal life flowed suddenly.
Charity was given by the king, suddenly.
For the soul of Mustafa, may there joy and prayers be.

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal