Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Art of Remembering and watching the Steps

Photo by Rahal Eks - Tasbehs

It has been reported among Sufis that "The Tale of the four Dervishes of Amir Khusru" has a healing effect on the listener. This goes back to the 13th century when the Sufi teacher Nizamuddin Awliyya fell ill one day and his student, Amir Khusru recited to him a Sufi allegory in beautiful Persian. The Sufi teacher recovered and blessed the book: "Who hears this story will, by Divine Power, be in health." We ought to remember that and can also add specific dhikr for healing - Ya Shifa, Ya Salam, Ya Wadud! - directed at those in need, including places. In West Africa people are suffering from Ebola, HIV is still a global health problem, so is cancer and many other diseases. Not to forget that an important living being is suffering: it is called Planet Earth! And it is plagued by pollution of the environment, climate change, destruction of nature and violent acts caused by human beings. The healing request list is long and keeps growing with all the wounded in current wars and acts of terror, the mentally deranged, the  hopeless and depressed.

Amina Shah beautifully retold Amir Khusru's tale, currently it seems the ailing world is in need to listen to it and also receive healing dhikr energy. We could also well do with recitations of Al-Fatiha, Ayat Al-Kursi and Surah Ya Sin. Shouldn't we pray for those who are ill and suffering, sending positive energy and asking Allah for his Baraka to reach those in need regardless if they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Druze, Baha'i, Ahmedi, Atheist, Taoist, Zoroastrian, Yazedi, Hindu, Buddhist, Shamanistic, Sunni, Shia, Alevi, Ahl-e Haqq, Sufi or whatever it may be. In my view empathy needs to be expressed to all of humanity, including to the animal kingdom, plants, and Planet Earth - all of creation should be treated with loving kindness. We have to remember that we came from Oneness, we entered the pluralistic world of duality, and we will one day return to The One, The Friend. Dhikr, remembering is a precise tool to polish our heart and transform our nafs, the commanding self, and in this process the veils of separation can get lifted - Insh'Allah. 

Now if you use a tasbeh to do dhikr, make sure it is in harmony with your inner being and that it is made out of natural materials (for example: wood, stone, amber, silver beads). And the string should also be organic and you know why? Because plastic or nylon is just not a good conductor. A tasbeh can have 33 beads divided in 3 X 11, or it can have 99. Small tasbehs are more practical for the pocket to do dhikr while on the bus or train (yes, it is possible to do Sufi exercises while dealing with the world, like on the way to work or standing in a queue waiting etc.). Of course sitting down formally to meditate, reflect, and do dhikr is something else that would also be lovely to be integrated in one's daily routine - and yes, we do have this time, either in the morning or some time during the day, or in the evening. It is just as much of a discipline as brushing your teeth and can turn into a positive and delightful habit. To engage in spiritual exercises also has some side-effects: health benefits!  Besides you'll feel better. It's a great tool to stay tuned and God-willing improve yourself during the process. Those who make good tasbehs are artisans or indeed even artists and it is an art to do dhikr in an optimised and correct way. As they say, through practice you may turn into a master. And please don't listen to those who bombard you with lines like: "The use of a tasbeh is bida, innovation!" It happened to me one day while waiting in a small tailor's shop in the medina of Marrakesh for my samsar, a local real-estate dude from the next door shop to get me a key for a riad, as I was desperately looking for a house to rent. In order to battle my impatience I took out my tasbeh and silently recited Ya Sabur, invoking patience. The tailors looked suspiciously long-bearded.

Soon one of them addressed me: "What is this?"

He pointed with disgust at my tasbeh. 

"You know very well that this is called a tasbeh, why do you have a problem with me using it to do dhikr?"

"It is haram, forbidden!" barked the ignorant young fanatic.

"How could remembering the 99 Beautiful Names and Qualities of Allah be forbidden?" I asked. "The Prophet did it with a pile of stones, what's the difference with the stones now being on a string?"

He shut up for a while, but soon he continued interrupting my dhikr exercise.

"You are a Muslim, why don't you have a beard?" he wanted to know in his impertinent way.

"Because I don't believe in a beard and I don't like having one. Islam is not in the beard or in a piece of fabric. If it is anywhere, it is in the heart of the believer," I countered.

"No, you must have a beard to be a good Muslim," he insisted.

"Do you know Fidel Castro?" I asked. "His beard is longer than yours and he ain't no Muslim! So just give me a break and leave me in peace."

He didn't, the forced conversation took another turn about how women should dress, veils included, and all that jazz, and I defended my position that it was none of his biz. Luckily my samsar showed up with the house key and we took off. Needless to say these tailors were heavily into a certain form of fanatical extremism that they considered pious. While in reality they were oozing with ignorance and intolerance, regarding all those as unbelievers other than their own tribe who were tripping on religious fetishism. Such fossilized mentality is negative and very tiring. Therefore, I'm absolutely delighted to read in the press that currently Morocco is officially supporting the Sufi Tradition to counteract the spread of extremism! Bravo! Fantastic! We need more of that worldwide! Please all join the positive gig in some form or another!

During these days with multiple troubles I'm often wondering where humanity is heading on a global scale? Are we about to enter another Dark Age dominated by hatred and ignorance? Or is all this that can be seen in many parts of the world a homeopathic reaction before things get truly better? I still believe in the evolution of consciousness and that the positive forces can unite and swing things the other way. Insh'Allah!

Watching over the steps - NAZAR BAR QADAM - is the second of the 11 Sufi rules and it can be applied to oneself, as well as to humanity as a whole. Watching over your steps can be taken literally when walking about, and of course it also implies where are you going spiritually, what actions are you taking. Are you running too fast? Are you going too slowly? Are you stagnating or just lazy? Should you pause and rest? Everyone deserves a break once in a while.

Watching over the steps implies to become aware of active and inactive moments or times. Action for action’s sake is not always good. Nor is pause for pause’s sake. A halt is indicated when it is not the right time or when you have to recuperate your energies and rest. Become aware of time and what is right. Refine your awareness. Be clear about your direction where you are heading. Symbolically speaking the aim should always be slightly uphill. Your steps taken are also your Sufi exercises. Ideally you manage to do them regularly. But even on busy days you can always do a dhikr exercise on the way to work in a bus or while quickly doing the dishes or some other automatic job. All these moments or steps add up. On a strategic level learn to become confident to take steps at the right time, at the right place, with the right intention, and in the right direction.

Put your emphasis on the positive and reduce all negatives. Watching over one’s steps also implies a reality check: Where do you come from? Where are you at present? And where are you heading? When the answer is in harmony with the goal of your inner being continue – if not, take a break, go on stand-by mode, reflect and re-coordinate the correct direction or the goal. Keep in mind and heart that whatever you do should be in harmony with the overall design of the Sufi Tradition. NAZAR BAR QADAM also stands for becoming aware of opportunities crossing your way. Recognize them and grab the opportunities when they manifest. Avoid pre-programing your decisions and actions. Remain flexible and alert in the present, truly aware of your steps. This means in a holistic way, including mental, emotional, spiritual and physical awareness. NAZAR BAR QADAM can also be done as a dhikr, especially when going for a walk, breathing in NAZAR, breathing out BAR, breathing in QADAM, breathing out NAZAR etc. It might help calm down the body and clear the head to reflect on the correct steps and actions or halt moments, as well as the goal per se. 

Coming back to remembering, I have to remember the late Robin Williams - may he rest in peace - whom I once met on a film set in Kenitra, Morocco. He was one of the nicest and funniest people of the entire crew, and not one bit aloof or on a high horse, not at all. He was really down to earth and a pleasure to work with. I feel very sad about his premature passing away and how people react to the tragic fact when someone committed suicide. Instead of judging such a soul or even blaming him or her, or calling such people cowards, it would be more in place to send love and pray for his or her soul to have peace! Ya Salam, Ya Rahman!

I also have to remember with great sorrow all the recent victims of war and terror who died in tragic ways - and I mean all of them, regardless if the victims were in Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank), in Israel, Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, in a shot down plane in Ukraine, or anywhere else. It doesn't matter if those killed were Muslim, Christian, Jew, Druze, Baha'i, Ahmedi, Yazidi, Sunni, Shia, Alevi, Ahl-e Haqq, Sufi, none of the above, Atheist or whatever - we are all Bani Adam, descendents of Adam, and as such part of one humanity. Those who behave inhuman and therefore exclude themselves from the common human family by their horrid actions are the murderous criminals on the extremist front. There is no excuse for such barbaric behavior and every sane human being regardless of which religious / spiritual adherence or the lack of it ought to stand up and speak out against this destructive madness with a clear and loud "NO!" What is happening in some parts of the world are crimes against humanity and against the cultural heritage. Can't we stop this nightmare? It is highest time to wake up and collectively face all the problems humanity needs to face on this planet in order to survive and evolve in peace and harmony. It's gonna be unity within diversity or nothing at all, so we better celebrate with the rainbow flag and allow the space for global diversity to manifest. Nature loves diversity, I'm sure God does too, otherwise He/She/It wouldn't have created us in such diverse ways! Why is tolerance and acceptance of the other so difficult for certain hardcore folks?

A final word about the Yazidis (also spelled Yezidi or Ezidi), who are often wrongly called devil worshippers, I find this highly insulting and ignorant. Yazidis believe in one God and as such they are monotheistic. It is a mainly Kurdish ethno-religious group, although some are native Arabic speakers. The group practice a combination of Shia and Sufi Islam mixed with syncretic elements of Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Assyrian, Pagan and indigenous regional folkloric aspects and also containing mystic elements from Christianity, Judaism, Gnosticism, as well as Mandaean, Marcionite and early Mesopotamian beliefs. Yazidis believe in one God, the Creator of the World, who entrusted it to seven angels. The preeminent one of them, one may say the leader of the Archangels, is Malak Tauus. He is not the fallen angel Iblis or Satan. Yazidis believe in reincarnation where the soul can purify in the process of different lives, and that the evil is not created by Malak Tauus, the Angel Peacock, but by humanity's choices. The annual seven-day Yazidi pilgrimage to the tomb of the Sufi Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir (the son of the traveler), who was supposedly of Umayyad descent, is a most important yearly event. He passed away in 1162 and is buried in Lalish, north of Mosul in Iraq.

The Arabic root MLK stands for Malak = angel and Malik = king. The latter is a codeword for Sufi! While Tauus means both peacock and verdant land. According to Al-Ghazzali, the "angels" can be seen as the higher faculties in the human being. So Malak Tauus, the supposedly "satanic" Yazidi idol, should be rather seen in the light of a symbolic meaning, namely being understood as an allegory of the higher faculties to be developed in humanity! This is also supported by another Yazidi symbol, a blackened snake, which stands for wisdom of life. Snake and life are written in Arabic in a similar way that rhymes. The color black is associated with wisdom and knowledge. This idea even filtered into Spain way back during Moorish times. Federico García Lorca, while explaining the duende (which can be related to "having Baraka"), wrote about the black sounds in his TEORÍA Y JUEGO DEL DUENDE (THEORY AND PLAY OF THE DUENDE).

Evidently the Yazidis ought to be seen as people of the book - they got theirs, apart from an oral tradition.

The question remains if we as humanity at large will evolve during this difficult time. But the problems to be faced can also be seen as opportunities to grow. We just have to remember, it takes at least two to tango! And we should try and dance - who was it who said: "From now on it's gonna be dancing!?" That would be the right spirit. And yes, I do believe we can. Let's try! Ya Haqq!

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal