Wednesday, June 01, 2005

dusting and flying

I would shake the dust from my coat, and rise

If I realized my own perfection.

I would rush to the sky, empty and light;

My head would be high as the ninth heaven.

#1925: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'm in a mood for cleaning. I dreamt my son was doing the vacuum cleaning. I used search words: clean, tidy, sweep, dust. I doubt that a man like Rumi ever did any housework. Here he presents a vision of perfection, a rushing toward the sky and away from the earth and its dust. He would be empty of substance and carrying no weight at all. This is such a tempting vision, to have no ties to earthly realities and contingencies.

There is a way in which this can be achieved when our necessary chores are so regulated that we do them without thinking, without effort. If I fail to do a cleaning chore, it is because some part of me doesn't agree that it should be done, or not by me right now. Later maybe. Someone else maybe. While we resist like this, we worry over things and this is what causes them to weigh us down.

I wonder whether Rumi was being ironic here. Perhaps making fun of such visions of perfection. There is a gruesome description (by an Egyptian psychiatrist) of the ecstasy of the suicide bomber or jihadist that has been pointed out to me. It's pretty old (early 2002) and has been much discussed but it stands in stark contrast to this vision of Rumi's.

When he is martyred, he reaches the apex of happiness. ... The height of ecstasy and happiness - and I am talking to you as a professional, a psychiatrist - comes the moment just like the producer told you: ten, nine, eight, seven, six, two, six, five, four, three, two, and then he presses the button to blow himself up. The most beautiful moment, for which he would have time speed up, is the moment he says "one - hop" - this man explodes, and he feels that he is flying, because he is completely convinced that he will not die ...

source: Middle East Media Research Institute

Surely this psychiatrist is as mad as they come. However, where is the real difference? Perhaps mysticism, with its vision of a transcendence of death, has this earthly danger that it can create a type of person who doesn't care about death and has no moral scruples about taking others with him (or "her" in this instance). The ultimate conclusion of this is that Islam could be intent on producing the End of Days and Final Judgment precisely because, to Muslims, this would be a moment of ultimate ecstasy.

Now that is a pretty scary thought for the day.


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