Saturday, May 07, 2005

what's not there

If my heart's not on fire, then why all this smoke?

If there's no incense burning, then what do I smell?

Why do I love? And why do I doubt?

Why is the moth so eager to burn in the candle's hell?

#370: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke with "what's not there" and finally found this verse simply through the not. Rumi speaks of doubt and of "the candle's hell" and that so resonates with me. Hell and the light are equated here. If you seek one, you seek the other.

When I first came across the Koran, I was struck, yes, by the hate-spewing language which just didn't seem right in a holy book. But then I thought there might be some wisdom in there somewhere, there must be some wisdom in there somewhere. Something that one could identify as a wise saying. I've asked Muslims to point something out to me. Nothing. With one exception, there is nothing. The following seems to be the one verse (or ayah) that could possibly boast a numinous quality.
Qur'an 24:35 (Yusuf Ali)
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.

Wow! This is the supremely poetic and wise bit of the Koran. Big deal. A pathetic story about a light that can guide one. How original is that? This is meant to be the culmination of all previous religions but it reads like a first stuttering babble. To see this as high art, high culture, high wisdom, high light of any kind, is to demonstrate one's total inexperience and naïveté. Oscar Wilde is said to have said: "I am not young enough to know everything." However, "Allah doth know all things." This delusion of omniscience is so incredibly childish. Surely Muslims are only human, surely something inside them is cringing at all this.

What do you do if you're a good Muslim scholar, lawyer, teacher, a male pillar of authority, and you suddenly realise that the central object of worship of your culture is a fake? What do you do when you realise that the Islamic longing for God is no more than that? Simply a longing.

Certainly, you would ask questions like Rumi asks here. Where there's smoke there must be fire. Where there is longing and the anguish of doubt, so too must there be a source of all that. A source and a goal in one. We rush toward the light like a moth to flame but it is the light that fuels our suicidal rush to a fiery death.

Hell. Rumi places hell within the flame. Qur'an 24:35 makes it quite clear that Allah is the flame. The same flame that guides also annihilates.


The image of a moth hurtling toward a flame is so similar to the image from sep11 of planes hurtling into tall phallic buildings representing power and wealth. It is as if Islam longs so desperately for this ascendancy that it has burst into flames itself.


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