Friday, March 31, 2006

a sweet, sweet jest

I'm sad that as she binds me in this pain,

My love does not intend my heart to gain

Its happiness. When she sees my distress

She laughs in secret at this sweet, sweet jest.

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

I'm starting to read longer and more thoughtful articles on Islam, today enjoying Wolfgang Bruno: Will the Internet Slay Islam?. Here is his concluding imagery that I fully concur with:

I have earlier stated that Islam is a "dinosaur in the age of mammals." I believe this is true. However, it is still a big and bad beast, even more dangerous and angry now precisely because it is wounded. We cannot allow such a creature to roam the streets where our children are growing up. We need to cage it, and hope that rational criticism, which its immune system cannot in the long run withstand, will slowly wear it down. This is a world war, and the best thing we can hope for is a prolonged "cold" war, with many minor clashes but no huge, cataclysmic hot war. This will require a global containment of the Islamic world, the expulsion of any Muslims in the West deemed to be a security threat and strong support to the movement of ex-Muslims. All of these steps will have to be implemented soon, or we will have no other options left but a full-scale war, with massive casualties. We will probably win such a war if it comes to it, but the death toll will exceed that of any other war in human history, and leave scars for generations to come. Time is growing short. Are we up to the job?

I too see Islam as a dying monster, thrashing about dangerously. I do the best I can to confront whatever Muslim I can find on forums, pushing the criticism and the mockery of Islam. It's the safest way to participate in this war of truths and values. However, it will take the courage of many visible apostates to achieve Islam's final demise. The likes of Wafa Sultan and Abdul Rahman are the warriors in the frontline. One is intelligent and outspoken, the other is an almost forlorn hero. The two share the great risk to their lives that is the outcome of speaking out against Islam.

And yet, once Islam dies, a new monster will appear and is probably growing to maturity in our very midst. Humanity seems intent on one folly after another, just as in my own personal life I have gone from one folly to another. We will never be done with this battle, whether at the personal level or at the communal. Tyrannosaurus Rex will always revive and rule again.

Perhaps a realization such as this is behind Rumi's rueful mood today. We yearn, we forge ahead on heroic quests, we live for this goal directedness. If we gained what we wanted we would lose our purpose so we constantly turn to some new goal to yearn for. True happiness comes from ceasing to seek it, from accepting just what is. But of course, just what is consists of wanting what we cannot have. Either way, the joke's on us.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

a delicate lover

My beloved is not as lovers are:

Beyond body, undying, without end.

If some fool wants to mock this, let him talk.

No lover is more delicate, more kind.

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

I've just finished reading Irfan Khawaja: Academic Apologists for Shariah: The Real Meaning of the Abdul Rahman Case. It is shocking to me to learn from this article just what a parlous state they are in, our Western institutions of learning. Khawaja quotes a vacuous and venomous rant from a professor, no less, at UCLA School of Law, Khaled Abou El Fadl. I can't believe that this type of rant can issue from an academician of such high rank. Khawaja also pleas for real academic challenge of Islam, not just of so-called Islamism (the ultra-conservative or fundamentalist versions of the faith) and not just mincing about under the constraints of a political correctness that never held back the scientific scholarship applied to every other set of sacred texts and sacred beliefs in the world. As he puts it himself:

I mean scholars capable of entertaining the hypothesis that Islam is false and irrational as such, and are willing to deal with it accordingly.

He ends his article with the following quote from Ayn Rand (from Atlas Shrugged):

The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments.

She is simply saying that morality is not something you can impose on people, not something you can command. You can only present it and hope that it will be understood. This is - or should be - above all a gentle process. And this, I believe, is the process that Rumi refers to today as expressed through a lover (always God for Rumi) who is most delicate and kind.

Still, there remains a dilemma here. There is no doubt that force was used to rescue Abdul Rahman from his immediate fate. There is no doubt that international pressure but especially pressure from the most powerful nation on earth was needed to ensure that rescue. There was no time for gentle persuasion, no time to teach the Afghans a better way to do things.

This has been a hugely symbolic event in my eyes for I also see Christ as an essentially subversive figure, indeed as the very embodiment of revisioning subversion. We need this energy very badly today and we need it strongly entrenched in our universities. It is a gentle strength on the physical plane but a powerful unflinching strength on the intellectual and spiritual planes. It does nothing brutal to people's bodies, it should never threaten lives. However, it should be encouraged to do its delicate but relentless work demolishing brick by brick the ridiculous edifice that is Islam today. Many other religions and worldviews (most notably Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and even Judaism*) have benefited greatly from the effects of such scholarly research and comparative analyses. The dissecting has revealed many hidden treasures. Islam must trust that its hidden treasures really are there and, if not, it should die a little more gracefully than it is currently doing.

* It should go without saying but it's probably worth adding for clarification that no religion has been picked apart more than has Christianity and by a scientific scholarship arising from within its own body. This is in fact its greatest strength and the source of its greatest promise.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

tales of spring

My heart forever weaves tales of your spring,

Endlessly tells the tulip fields' tidings;

It's drunk on your eyes, their dregs, their dreams,

The better to serve your lips' ruby streams.

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

There is a good deal of springtime feeling around the world these days. Here, in Australia, it is autumn (or "fall" to yanks). The cold fingers of winter are starting to grope through the chinks in our clothes and our houses. The single layered clothes we've been wearing mainly for decency's sake are no longer adequate. We reach now for a scarf, a shawl, a light blanket on our knees while watching TV at night. Autumn and winter have a constrictive feeling, a curling in on oneself feeling. Expansive and joyful tales of spring are therefore hard to relate to.

Abdul Rahman, the Afghan Christian convert, has gone into hiding. For me, he has become a symbol for what is most incompatible between the West and Islam. While he is in hiding, he might as well be dead. (There is speculation that he has indeed been killed.) Until I hear news of his genuine release from the threat of a death penalty, whether through a legal process or through a lawless reprisal, I cannot feel joyful or springlike at all. Certainly not whenever my thoughts turn to Islam.

Thankfully, my thoughts will wander in other arenas today. The sun will often shine despite the occasional cloud cover. There will be intermittent peace at least. Perhaps I should be thankful for that much, thankful to be alive. Still, a corner of my heart will remain in wintry silence, praying for better times ahead.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

lost in love

My face was pale, my heart was overflowing

And travelled the same path that Majnoon trod.

That was how things stood until this moment --

What's happened now makes all that seem like nothing.

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

I gather that Majnoon is to Persian literature what Romeo is to English (see The Story of Laila and Majnoon and Wikipedia's Layla and Majnun). Majnoon means madman and refers to the lover's distraught wanderings in the wilderness following the marriage of his beloved Laila to another man. In the best known version of the tale, Laila's husband dies for love of his wife, knowing she only loves Qays (the Majnoon). As a widow, she must wait two years before joining Qays but her impatience consumes her and she dies. Majnoon visits her grave and also dies.

I suspect that Rumi is playing on the idea of living in the moment, rather than recording an exact moment when he saw the light. The tale is told of his sudden realization, during his travels in search of Shams, that Shams was present inside him all along. Such a realization would be analogous to the early Christians realizing that Jesus was still with them, still present in their souls, an experience that they described through the notion of His resurrection. Rumi also suggests such an idea in some of his other quatrains. This particular verse could have been composed at any time, not necessarily at that moment in his travels. It speaks of an eternal truth, an experience not directed by time, not about yesterday or tomorrow, neither past memory nor future desire. It is about being, the now, the present moment. When lost in the moment, we are lost in God and that is worth all the long years of only apparent lostness.

Abdul Rahman, the Afghan Christian convert, is seeking asylum in another country. I pray he is taken in and that his ordeal will have ended.

Monday, March 27, 2006

the donkey path

'So what?' says the charming flirt to accusing eyes.

'So what?' says the love-struck fool to his bad name.

As we become sure-footed on the rocky path of love

So what if some other donkey is feeble and lame?

#1598: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

What a little treasure is here in this quatrain! The hero on life's path depicted as a donkey laden with his weaknesses and disabilities, yet not forlorn. He seems to tread lightly and with sure foot all the same. Who cares what other people think?

donkey and camel

Mohammad on a camel, Jesus on a donkey @

The latest news on Abdul Rahman is that he is being released partly based on evidence that he is mentally disturbed. If ever a lone donkey was walking steadfastly on, it is this man. In an AP report on this news, Rahman is quoted as follows:

"I am serene. I have full awareness of what I have chosen. If I must die, I will die," Abdul Rahman told the Rome daily, responding to questions sent to him via a human rights worker who visited him in prison.

"Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us," he added in a clear reference to Jesus.

He knows quite well that he is a Second Christ. This, alone, is enough for a diagnosis of madness. However, he is also serene and this is the clue that he is not, in fact, mad. He has a fresh but profound understanding of Christianity, not weighed down by centuries of tradition but nevertheless matured over the 16 years since his initial conversion. He is paying and has paid a high price for his faith in Christ. A lot of us in the West take this Christian heritage for granted for we have not needed to earn it or pay for it. I hope and pray that Rahman will escape death because his will be a powerful voice. He might even have a thing or two to teach the rest of us here in the West, not just to his fellows in Islam. We could all do with a touch of his courage in this simple stand for the moral truths that should underly any civilization worthy of the name. He is brave and very Christ-like to offer his life to the cause in this way but all the same, I would prefer that humanity wake up and not insist on a blood sacrifice here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

a lovely dream

The scent of you will never leave my nose.

The vision of your face won't leave my eyes.

A lifetime long I've dreamt you, night and day.

That life has passed, the dream won't go away.

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

The big current story in the West-Islam clash concerns the threatened martyrdom of the Afghan Christian convert, Abdul Rahman. I say martyrdom because he is on trial much like a Second Christ and he is representing values and ideas that are clashing badly right now.

Here in Australia, the Prime Minister said he was appalled by the news, that it made him feel sick (literally), that it was beyond belief. Today, the (supposed) view of the Australian Islamic community is expressed through Haset Sali, spokesman for the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, in a brief article titled Prosecution of convert 'un-Islamic'. It is quite hysterical, calling on the Australian Government "to see if the Afghan prosecutors could be charged with crimes against humanity unless the religious charges against Mr Rahman were dismissed". Right, as if we would be stupid enough to fall for that one. This is Islam passing the buck to the West to correct Islam. We would simply be seen as Islamophobic if we pursued this path.

Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer is the one, in my view, who is dreaming the right dream. He is advocating a much tougher, more "get real" stance toward Islam. He is clear in what he believes the Bush Administration should be doing:

Instead of saying that all this is up to the Afghans, we should set an example -- and say that we will not tolerate anything but full juridical freedom of conscience, and that if that means the Afghan Constitution must be revised to delete the Sharia provision, so be it. But we are not going to waste our arms and blood to prop up a state that institutionalizes the oppression of religious minorities and extinguishes the freedom of conscience.

I'm appalled that the Vatican could do no better than to request that Abdul Rahman be pardoned. This is to implicitly acquiesce in his guilty verdict. I shudder to think that the Christian Church is so corrupt that it would ally itself with Islam like this. It is allying itself with a fellow religion at the expense of the values enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially this bit:

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

This is the Dream that smells as sweet as roses. This is the Dream with the delightful face. This, surely, is a better dream than Islam ever dreamt. Each of us in the world today needs to decide which dream we're riding and I, for one, am riding Article 18, however unglamorous and inherently unpoetic it may sound. It is simple and straight and therefore just as Allah would want it.

1. al-Fatihah: The Opening

1 In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

2 Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds,

3 The Beneficent, the Merciful.

4 Master of the Day of Judgment,

5 Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help.

6 Show us the straight path,

7 The path of those whom Thou hast favoured; Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.

Would that a few more Muslims would wake up and see that Abdul Rahman is indeed following the straight path of Allah, just as he claims to be doing. It is the Muslim mob that has gone astray, it is the Islamic world today that is earning divine wrath. Be warned, Muslims, for Allah may not be so beneficent and merciful toward you as you might hope. Allah knows what is in your hearts and mouthing platitudes will not work with Him. It certainly doesn't work with me and I am merely human.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


If I sigh, that won't make her happy.

If I grovel, the king won't be content.

If I adore the moon, her shadow, loyal,

Why hide the truth? the moon's not satisfied.

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

After a couple days break, I'm back. Still not inspired, however. Not happy, not content, not satisfied. Today's quatrain says that sighing, grovelling, adoring, these are just not good enough. The beloved wants more and my own hunch is that the extra bit is to see the relationship humanized and equalized.

If I imagine myself as Luna, queen and goddess, I imagine I would like to be challenged and not always agreed with. I would enjoy a partner not so completely laid low by my magnificence. I would like companions that look me in the eye and level with me.

Allah seems satisfied with the grovelling, Mohammad seems content with the adoration. Why is it that the vast majority of Muslims are still stuck there as if they'd never even heard of Rumi and, especially, of Shams of Tabriz? Where are the modern writers, the psychologists, the theologians, the philosophers, the poets, who have followed in Rumi's steps? I have no answer to that. Perhaps Hafiz because he came later. Perhaps Iqbal because he came last and consciously modelled his own works, such as his Asrar-i-Khudi, on Rumi's Masnavi.

Iqbal gives his own version of the meeting between Shams and Rumi in which Rumi's books on philosophy are burnt by Shams' religious zeal.

The Maulvi, being a stranger to Love's miracles
And unversed in Love's harmonies,
Cried, "How didst thou kindle this fire,
Which hath burned the books of the philosophers ?"
The Sheikh answered, "O unbelieving Muslim,
This is vision and ecstasy: what hast thou to do with it ?
My state is beyond thy thought,
My flame is the Alchemist's elixir,"
Thou hast drawn thy substance from the snow of philosophy,
The cloud of thy thought sheds nothing but hailstones.
Kindle a fire in thy rubble,
Foster a flame in thy earth!
The Muslim's knowledge is perfected by spiritual fervour,
The meaning of Islam is Renounce what shall pass away.

Muhammad Iqbal: Asrar-i-Khudi (The Secrets of the Self), XVI
trans from the original Persian by Reynold A. Nicholson

As I read Iqbal here, I see a glorification of enthusiasm (god possession) at the expense of reason. I would be the first to agree that Rumi's library, if it contained only dry philosophy, needed to be completed, though not necessarily burnt. I don't see any "Muslim knowledge" that needs perfecting: Muslim knowledge is simply non-existent. Instead, I see Iqbal picking on the dryness of Western knowledge (especially modern science) and claiming some merit in its absence from Islam, urging Muslims on to more revelation, more religious zeal, as if it were not already drowning in it.

There is much to munch on in relation to Iqbal and that might keep me going further toward the end of this stretch. We'll see, we'll see.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

die for love

You who live by the grace of this world's love,

Shame on you! Why do you live this way?

Don't live without love, like a lifeless corpse.

Die for love: lay down your life, and life with you will stay.

#1602: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

OK, I'm gonna kill off this blog right now, then wait 3 days and see if it resurrects.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

God only knows

What can I do, my love? I'm in love with your face.

Your beautiful eyes make me shy, what can I do?

Each and every moment, passion rises, peaks, flows,

And I haven't a clue about what to do, God knows.

#1342: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: face

I decided on today's verse because the idea of a face came up again. A lot of the sentiment in this poem is similar to the adolescent falling-in-love experience that is a favourite with pop singers targeting the audience caught up in that particular mess. I've been wondering whether this poem could work as a pop song and it just doesn't feel right. A male singer will admit to some helplessness but not to the extent that Rumi indulges in here. Today, a singer would sound silly connecting the passion to deity, suggesting that God is behind it all.

There is a story told about the great mystic poet Hafiz in which he kept a forty nights vigil at the tomb of an earlier great mystic poet in the hope of obtaining the hand of a beautiful woman named Shakh-e-Nabat (branch of sugarcane). When his vigil was almost complete he received a vision in which an angel asked what was his heart's desire. Hafiz was at first dumbstruck but eventually managed to blurt out: "I want God!" He then went on to find a spiritual teacher and become a great spiritual teacher in his turn. This story tries to explain how the love of a woman can be subtly driven by an underlying yearning for God.

The other greatest of mystic poets of Islam is Ibn Arabi who travelled a good deal but settled long enough in Anatolia to raise a family in the later part of his life. For the Sufi "God's call" is simply an inner call to develop and realize one's potential and that can mean, as in Hafiz's case, to accept the loss of a sweetheart and it can also mean, as in Ibn Arabi's case, to take on the joys and responsibilities of ordinary family life. It's never too clear, when one is in love, in which direction things will go. Neither direction - the living out or the sublimation - is universally right. It depends on each person, the truth is unique to each. In that sense, certainly, God only knows.

Monday, March 20, 2006

primrose eyes

That primrose gazed at me with languishing eyes

Till I was amazed to see her tears flow.

The paint would run dark rivers down her cheeks

If those dark eyes were merely painted so.

#1026: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: eyes

I'm picking up on the image of eyes from yesterday's quatrain. Then, it was Rumi whose eyes were filled with tears; this time, it is the eyes of the feminine beloved.


Primrose @

I've done a little research on the primrose and discovered some complications. The classic primrose is really the "English primrose", shown above, and most common in western and southern Europe. It's hard to say if this is the same primrose that Rumi would have encountered in Anatolia (modern day Turkey). In the Middle East, it is the cyclamen that is more common and it was classified as a primrose until recently. (The online Britannica accepts the primrose classification but the Wikipedia refers to a reclassification.) Like the English primrose, the cyclamen has five petals but they don't open out so obviously to form a flat face-like bloom. I'm guessing that Rumi is referring to a primrose similar to the one above but with dark colouring in the centre, suggestive of an eye. (I've not been able to find a suitable image of this kind of primrose through Google.)

Whether Rumi is referring to a true primrose or to a cyclamen, the clear arrangement of five petals is of interest to a mystic since it has an association with the idea of the quintessential.

quintessence c.1430, in ancient and medieval philosophy, "pure essence, substance of which the heavenly bodies are composed," lit. "fifth essence," from M.Fr. quinte essence (14c.), from M.L. quinta essentia, from L. quinta, fem. of quintus "fifth" + essentia (see essence). Loan-translation of Gk. pempte ousia, the "ether" added by Aristotle to the four known elements (water, earth, fire, air) and said to permeate all things. Its extraction was one of the chief goals of alchemy. Sense of "purest essence" (of a situation, character, etc.) is first recorded 1570; quintessential (n.) is from 1899, in this sense.

source: Online Etymology Dictionary

Rumi further refers to this idea by contrasting the real (essential) with the fake (painted on or merely phenomenal). The primrose flower itself is merely a symbol for the quintessential, not the quintessential itself.

I love it that Rumi's goddess can weep as readily as he himself can. This quatrain is a nice match to yesterday's.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

cloudy weather

The moment my eyes are flooded with tears

Her image, like a lustrous pearl, appears.

"Pour more wine for this dear honored guest,"

I tell my eyes, whispering in their ears.

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

It's lonely at the top. I've been following the tennis tournament in Indian Wells which is now down to the women finalists and the men's semi-finals. A seeming crowd of contestants over a handful of courts and stadiums is reduced to ten contestants (counting a doubles final) on the one main stadium. It seems so lonely at the top. Ascendancy has an elite feel, a loss of camaraderie, of jostling with the ordinary folk. Only the cream are playing now.

I feel I've lost my connection with Rumi now. I started with the richness of a year's worth of quatrains and I'm left with a month's worth. I stay with the task because I set it and mean to finish it, that's all. Today, Rumi offers me a pearl of wisdom and I can but stare blankly at it. He whispers into the ears of his eyes but nothing touches me. Perhaps I have lost my ability to weep. Perhaps my attention is merely elsewhere.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

friend and foe

My beloved could tear my skin away --

I won't cry out or say she's caused this pain.

I've enemies aplenty, only her for friend.

To foe concerning friend I won't complain.

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

Key idea: torture

One of the rumours about Shams' murder depicts him as having been flayed alive, surely a most cruel torture and difficult to avoid crying out over. Today's quatrain sounds like a defiant response to the news or rumour of this torture. Perhaps he was told that Shams did cry out and did rue his relationship with Rumi since it brought on the punishment. It is certain that Rumi witnessed no such event himself so this quatrain may have been his way of saying: I simply don't believe it happened that way.

It saddens me that humanity behaves in this way, that it chooses to test a belief, a passion, a commitment, by applying torture to the believer, the lover, the adherent. This is the test of the lover's resolve. A similar test is being applied to the West by the bullying elements in Islam. We are harassed on all sides, from the skies and in our undergrounds. Not just at work but at play, in our tourist buses and our nightclubs. Our children are attacked in their schools, our teenagers in their meeting places. The innocent and the young are our most tender skin parts.

There are plenty of intellectuals and analysts who ask us to blame ourselves: the US for its foreign policies, the Jews for their Zionist zeal, the French for their isolationism, the Danish for their tactlessness. By contrast, there are voices like Oriana Fallaci, Robert Spencer, Ibn Warraq, and now Wafa Sultan, who say that Islam is to blame, Islam is the real enemy, Islam is the way of thinking and feeling about the world that is putting us all at risk. And what's more, this Islam has no room for reform, it is rotten to the core. It simply must die or we will all die together as victims of its wrong-mindedness.

Islam is like a god of division. It separates out humanity into believers and infidels, friends and foes. This is not a god of transcendence, certainly not of transcendence of opposites. There is no vision of something higher than this division of friends and foes. By contrast, there are clear pointers in the Christian teachings.

I have agonized over this issue because the warrior stance of the anti-Islamists, especially of Ali Sina of, uses a rhetoric very similar to that of the Islamists themselves. It effectively plays into the hands of Islam by accepting and affirming the war that Islam declares. It seems to say: "You want war? Well then, we'll give you war!"

I would like to believe that this war god is needed for now and we will eventually transcend it, we will find a way beyond it. However, that is similar to what Islam seeks. It seeks a world in which there are no longer any infidels, much as we (its now sworn enemies) seek a world in which there are no longer any Muslims. Separate worlds could once be sustained by separate geographies but we are heading now towards One World and we are clearly fighting over what that world will look like.

The Westerner in me hopes it will look like my current familiar world. The mystic or gnostic in me expects that both of the competing worlds will be destroyed, each by the other, and that some new vision will arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes. I strongly suspect that this vision will resemble this friend of Rumi's, this friend over whom great suffering has been inflicted and endured but about whom he would not complain. At least not to her enemies.

Friday, March 17, 2006

wine overflowing

Was such a drunk ever seen in the tavern of love,

Or such broken and shabby old vats to hold the wine?

The courtyard's awash in wine, overflowing the sky --

Was such a full cup ever seen in a drunkard's hand?

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

Key word: drunk

The wine is truly flowing today, indeed even overflowing. Not just across the surface of the earth but across the heavens as well. I rediscover the idea of decay here in the old wine vats, "broken and shabby", and I think of the expression "old wine in new bottles". Here, of course, the wine is pretty vigorous and the vats crumbling, so there is an echo of the Gospel passages on new wine in old bottles:

Matthew 9:14-17 (King James Version)

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

Christians understand this as referring to the new blood or message of Jesus that needed a new container, the New Covenant expressed through the New Testament, in contrast to the old container, the Old Covenant expressed through the Old Testament.

Rumi would have been quite familiar with these Christian allusions and I see clearly between the lines here. Shams is the source of the plentiful wine but it cannot be contained or expressed through the existing medium, the shabby and fragmentary Quran expressing the limited Islamic doctrines. Much much more was opened up through his encounter with Shams and much much more needed to pour out of his soul, and all this inside new containers, these simple rhyming and metrical verses, at first these Shams quatrains but later the rhyming couplets of the Mathnawi. Keep it simple, keep it entertaining, keep it driving along. That was how Rumi was to spread the word, the message of Shams.

There is a similar phenomenon today in the miraculous popularity of two major (and by now very rich) authors: JK Rowling and Dan Brown. Both bring magic and esoteric knowledge onto centre stage, both invite their readers to explore these lost traditions in more depth and detail, both seduce into these hidden worlds. They might both be doing it quite as consciously as was Rumi seven centuries ago. Today there is the printed book and the follow-on movie, but in Rumi's day there was no printing press so that catchy rhymes and rhythms were needed to keep a message alive, easy to memorize and pass on.

In Rumi's case it is most likely that the spiritual message came first and needed a container, the wine started to flow and needed new vats. In Dan Brown's case, it seems pretty clear that his wife, Blythe, is passionate about getting a feminist-spiritual message across. An easy-to-read thriller is the means for achieving that. I'm not well enough acquainted with Rowlings to know where her motivation lies. It appears to be one of drawing these young children back to book reading with an opening up to alchemy and the dark arts being of secondary importance. It doesn't matter, though: the wine will flow either way.



Thursday, March 16, 2006

wasting away

You can't get drunk on the wine of her eyes,

You can't bury your hands in her hair.

Your enemies taunt you, night and day:

'You waste away, and still she doesn't care.'

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

Key word: drunk

Still on the theme of thirst and drink, I find Rumi today in seeming despair. There are no visible or tangible results to his quest, just days and nights of longing. As my time with Rumi draws near to its end, similar questions arise in me. What have I achieved with all this? Was it mere entertainment? Have I changed in any way? Have I learned something I didn't know already? What do I have to show for my efforts?

I'm currently living inside a blank space with no answers at all but a definite gathering of questions. I can but endure it and waste away, hoping that some response will come sometime or, at least, an acceptance that a response may never come.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

a time to wake up

If love makes you thirst, never fear: you have wine.

If your body's a ruin, don't worry: there's treasure inside.

You've run out of water? No, your water is near.

Wake up: this world that you dream holds nothing to fear.

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

Key idea: thirst

I've picked up on the theme of thirst, having failed to discuss it yesterday. My current mood is grim as I am preoccupied with decay, death, dissolution. I can see I'm entering into a nigredo state of mind. It's time for me to break up old patterns of thought and perception. I'm aware of this passing away but only very faintly aware of new buds on the horizon. My business colleague has left on a short trip, some time away so she can think things through. Perhaps I am also withdrawing a little as I prepare to make a leap ... or decide against it.

I've picked up from the library and started reading Jacques Lacarrière's The Gnostics with its amazing front cover illustration:


Serpent in the sky @

As I started reading, I was reminded of how the early Christian gnostics repudiated the world as we know it conventionally. They took a position of defiance, even of subversion, against what we normally think of as "the real world", the world that so dominates today. In today's verse, we see Rumi being the good gnostic that he was, gently poking fun at the unreal "real world" that threatens us with unfulfilled longing, with unquenched thirst, and with the inevitable decay of the body in death. If we can but "wake up" and see through the lie, then we will have nothing to fear.

I know I'm not "there" yet. I know that fear still holds sway with me. These things take time to ripen and this fruit is not yet ready to drop.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

the thought of her

My tongue is parched, though I've drunk myself senseless.

I haven't heart nor head; nor patience, nor peace of mind.

My tears fall, bewildered at the thought of her, defenseless.

Saghi, please, do me a favor -- bring me some more wine.

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

Key idea: thirst

The cupbearer, Saghi or saqi, appears in today's verse, ready with more wine. My own mood is just like Rumi's: I'm at a loss and have neither patience nor peace of mind. I feel thus moved after watching a current affairs program last night: ABC TV Four Corners Riot and Revenge. The program covered the infamous Cronulla riots and subsequent revenge attacks here in Sydney in December of last year. The conflict has been characterized as one of racism but it is, for me, clearly about Islam. The notion of "people of Middle Eastern appearance" is simply a tag for "visible Muslim". The program left me angry, frustrated, wanting to get through to someone, whoever that idiot is that sees all this as benign, that sees Islam as appeasable.

The tide has turned, I hope, with the new voice of Wafa Sultan, a voice that we might all be able to rally behind. She knows she has taken on leadership in this crisis, and she does so with humility, honesty and refreshing forthrightness. Near the end of last night's program, a Muslim justified the brutal revenge attacks by claiming that the other side started it all, that it was but a response to the "racist" riots. (In reality, many Muslims had been offended by visible slogans like the "Mohammad is a camel fucking faggot" worn across a T-shirt.) I would remind them of who really started all this, as Sultan has expressed it:

The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations.

The Prophet of Islam said: "I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger."

When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war.

In order to st[op] this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels.

Wafa Sultan

Wafa Sultan on Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar) @

My colleague has said that he never offends other people's beliefs.

What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names that they did not choose for themselves?

Once, he calls them Ahl Al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the "People of the Book," and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians "those who incur Allah's wrath."

Who told you that they are "People of the Book"?

They are not the People of the Book, they are people of many books.

All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking.

What gives you the right to call them "those who incur Allah's wrath," or "those who have gone astray," and then come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?

We must hear more and more of this woman's message and this is my small contribution to that effort.

Monday, March 13, 2006

a fecund weeping

My eyes? "I'll make a river flow there." So she said.

My heart? "It will bleed till it's full of blood," she said.

And my body? "Just wait a few days more,

I'll show the world your shame, and throw it out the door."

#1047: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key idea: weeping

I've decided this morning to pick up the thread of pain, left somewhat dangling at blood money. Here we have Rumi in conversation with his feminine friend, his beloved conceived as woman, and she is promising him all sorts of bad things. Not pleasure, but pain; not joy, but sorrow; not pride, but shame. The last two lines seem to allude to an unwanted pregnancy, evidence that a young woman has been precociously promiscuous. One imagines that her family will evict her from the family home, throw her out the door and into the street, there to fend for herself however she can. Of course, the oddity in all this is that, this time, the pregnancy occurs in a man.

The idea of male pregnancy is old and widespread. In classical mythology, it turns up as Zeus giving birth to Athena from his head, after he had swallowed his pregnant wife, Metis. In a more modern story, Henrik Ibsen's play, Hedda Gabler, a book written by a male character, Eilert Lovborg, is characterized as his child with a female character, Mrs. (Thea) Elvsted. She has acted as his fertilizing inspiration. When Hedda burns the manuscript of the book, she gloats (in her envy at Thea's relationship with Eilert): "Now I am burning your child, Thea!--Burning it, curly-locks! ... Your child and Eilert Lovborg's. ... I am burning--I am burning your child." Thus does the Third Act of the play come to its dramatic conclusion.

In Rumi's case the fertilizing power was Shams, a male impregnating a male, and the child was the eventual poetic output which framed Shams' insights, this collection of verses in honour of Shams and later, the larger opus of the Mathnawi. The child was born of the pain of Rumi's love for and then loss of Shams under tragic cirucumstances, with his own son implicated in the murder. Quite an irony that he would seek refuge in a different kind of creativity, one disconnected from biological reproduction!

This whole role reversal idea, with the woman impregnating and the man acting as womb, is closely related to the ambiguous alchemical mating of winged King and Queeen that was discussed recently under a struggle for dominance. The clearly distinct biological mating is contrasted with, even replaced by, this strange psychospiritual mélange. And the two coniunctios cross over to form the ultimate quarternio or sacred marriage, as I touched on briefly at an ancient secret.

Whew! All this derives from too much weeping!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

a trespass

Being alive is a trespass without you.

Without you, what life can this living be?

Light of my life, each lifetime that passes

Without you is death; that's living for me.

#1397: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: trespass

The word trespass caught my eye this morning. I can't say what the original Farsi (Persian) word used by Rumi is or means, beyond some general sense of sin, but in the English the etymology of trespass points to a passing beyond or across, such as the passing from life into death, from conformity into originality, from lawfulness into crime, from sleep into wakefulness. In each case the soul rests in the status quo but dares to cross a divide (or is pushed across if the daring is lacking).

I certainly have a sense of having done that in recent times. I have pushed the boundaries of language until a barrier was erected and a "no" declared. The specific sentence that marked the crossing of the boundary was this:

I spit on your Quran and I spit on your Mohammad.

If today's quatrain is read conventionally, it sounds like adolescent twaddle, pop song banalities. However, if one crosses over into a search for an underlying meaning, this little verse is really quite cute. A key, I believe, lies in Rumi's love of opposites, especially the laying of one idea over another. Paradox is the bread and butter of the mystic and Rumi likes to convey paradox through this verbal overlaying.

We know that "light of my life" refers to Shams and we know that Shams has been compared to Jesus with both god-men having died and having been resurrected. Shams crossed from life into death by being pushed by his murderers but I'm sure he also pushed them to it by his original ideas. He was undoubtedly pushing the boundaries of religious speculation and dragging Rumi along with him. So Shams, in a verse about sinning or straying from the straight-and-narrow, represents that very sinning. Rumi is saying, in fact: You can't be truly alive without sinning; and the greatest sin of all is to fail to be truly alive.

Now that message is not what your average lovelorn pop singer is trying to convey ... or is it? There is a revolutionary spirit even in the most benign or banal of pop songs. Even the Beatles' "I wanna hold your hand" conveys a yearning for simple relationship that challenged the norms, the conventional expectations of romance. The challenge became more evident with the Rolling Stones and the later "angry" or more deliberately provocative artists. In all cases where the art has moved us we have been challenged to move over a boundary line toward a fresh perspective.

My own spit statement was intended to be provocative but it only reached the moderator of the list where it was censored, pulled up short, denied passage. Now I understand why that list and others like it seem so dead to me. They don't let the "light of my life" through, they don't allow the sunlight to come through. This is because they see the sun in a childish, shallow way, rather resembling an inane smiley. No, the sunshine is more than that, far far more than that.

Marty Feldman

Marty Feldman @


Saturday, March 11, 2006

a struggle for dominance

She came to him and said, "You are my soul."

He answered, "You're the lowest of my slaves."

Proud as the moon rising vain above the crowd

"You are mine," is what she hoped I would say.

#1951: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Last night I returned via DVD to the 1966 movie classic, Un homme et une femme (A man and a woman). It is a simple story, told with simple elegance and French flair. It seems to strip romance to the bone, down to the bare essentials.

Today's verse also appears to be a simple statement about love between woman and man. However, like yesterday's quatrain, it does have a dark and twisted meaning. (Thanks to Bob for affirming that in his comment.) If I apply the insights from the recent Fromm book on Having and Being, I can see lots of ownership metaphors in this verse. She says: "You are my soul." He says: "You're the lowest of my slaves." She had hoped that he'd say: "You are mine." Each owns or tries to own the other. Each also tries to dominate: he by characterizing her as standing at the bottom of the hierarchy of power and status, she by trying to rise proudly but vainly above the crowd.

I want to look at a couple of illustrations from the alchemical series of woodcuts, Rosarium philosophorum (commented on extensively by Jung in his "Psychology of the Transference"). In almost all of the images of Sol (King, male) and Luna (Queen, female), the couple stand opposite each other as equals or lie connected (one body, two heads) in a tomb. The two exceptions are shown below:

plate 5
plate 5
plate 11
plate 11

Rosarium philosophorum @ (see also larger uncoloured versions of these illustrations at

Both images show the sexual embrace of Sol and Luna. In the first, it is quite clear that Sol lies on top of Luna and their sun and moon emblems are depicted as well, for good measure. In the second image, the couple now have wings suggesting this is a spiritual version of the first embrace. The emblems are gone and there is (to my mind) a good deal of ambiguity in the sex of the couple. It is interesting how this ambiguity plays out in the commentaries of a female (Voss) and a male (McLean).

In Karen-Claire Voss's Spiritual Alchemy essay, she writes:

Plate 11 shows the beginning of the last stage of the work. The image is explicitly sexual. The king and queen, each winged, wear two crowns, and are submerged in water. Their limbs are entwined; her hand grasps his phallus; his left hand fondles the nipple of her breast; his right is under her neck supporting her.

In Adam McLean's Commentary on the series, he writes of plate 11: "This time the female forces are active, and in their intercourse it is the woman who lies on top of the man."

So, she sees the male clearly on top and he sees the female there!

The friendliest interpretation of Rumi that I can come up with is that today's verse is simply a record of a phase in the alchemical process where male/female dominance is a preoccupation. In the end, neither man nor woman, neither feminine nor masculine principle, comes out "on top". However, a struggle for dominance is definitely a phase in the overall game.

Friday, March 10, 2006

blood money

Make peace with pain: I am your remedy.

No need for others' help, I am your friend.

If you are killed, don't moan, "Oh, I've been killed."

Be grateful, for I am your blood money.

#1168: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: pain

I continue to be haunted by thoughts of torture, especially since I have been exchanging views on a forum with a man who is obsessed with the cruelty of infant torture. This kind of thing rubs off on one. It's a delicate matter, this. Our capacity for empathy and care is heightened when we see a child. We're programmed to take care of our vulnerable young for much longer than any other animal species. A child in need (starving or abandoned) or in pain (injured or tortured) tears at our heart strings because we long to do something to help. It is a natural instinct that may become obsessive if we see images of unfortunate children on our news media while being unable directly to help or reach them. I've found that I needed to make a conscious effort to turn away, shrug off the hypnotic state induced, and make a determined effort to just get on with my life. I feel I serve humanity better that way in the long run. However, I know that this is also a determined indifference which supports the status quo.

Rumi's reply to my search for his advice on pain strikes me as odd. He tells me quite directly that he is the remedy. He, alone, with no other assistance, can heal me. It's odd because it sounds like a pretty big claim that is not characteristic of the Rumi I have been reading to date. Blood money is what a family receives as compensation for the killing or mutilation of one of its members. The compensation is paid by the murderer to the next of kin. If Rumi characterizes himself as blood money then he is saying that death by murder is a welcome blessing because it will bring him as the final product of the process.

The "I" in this quatrain has many layers. Rumi would have known that the hearer of this poem (or reader perhaps at a later time) looked up to him as a spiritual teacher, much as he looked up to Shams. He often identified Shams as the very author of these verses. So the "I" is Shams for Rumi, also. He knows that major adversity, major pain and grief, have resulted in him in a greater vision of life, and a greater reverence for it. He also took on Shams' role of teacher, of model of the perfect man, and even of carrier of divinity. In the latter role, Rumi is identifying in this verse with Jesus. I'm certain he is alluding to Jesus' resurrection here. In the role of model, Rumi is identifying with Mohammad, his "I" refers to Mohammad. I can even read in this verse a claim that the pain of Islamic terrorism, of all the lives lost, is not in vain, for Islam brought with it what Mohammad - and Rumi - represents. As a person of Christian background, I can comfortably accept the Jesus identification. I have far more trouble with the Mohammad one. However, the verse only alludes and so it can speak to the ears of Muslim and Christian alike.

Because of these many layers, this verse feels "deep". It feels almost like a concise summing up of what all the other verses are about. Since I am drawing very near now to the end of this verse set, I guess there is good timing in it.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

pain as friend

The heart in me lives for the pain you cause.

The world is foreign, only pain's a friend,

Who does this heart a favor just to come

Into a heart too wrung to offer room.

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

Search word: pain

The pain of torture has been demanding my attention of late. I am haunted by the story of the torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, a Parisian Jew, at the hands of a predominantly Muslim gang. It is being seen, naturally enough, as the latest incident in a looming war between Judaism and political Islam. It could be said that the war began 14 centuries ago when Mohammad dealt brutally with the Banu Qurayza Jews of Medina, killing all the men and taking the women and children as slaves. It could be said that the war started only in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. I'm inclined to the view that the deeper roots are the truer ones.

In researching circumcision, I've come across a website, book and theory titled "Saharasia", by James DeMeo. He has analyzed cultures for warlike tendencies and identified a geographical area, linked to a desert climate, where such cultures arose and predominate. It's an interesting and plausible overview despite its risks of being a tad simplistic.


World map of patrist/matrist culture @

Rumi, in today's quatrain, seems to be suffering still through the grief he felt over the loss of Shams. He seems to welcome the pain of that loss as a stand-in for his friend. As I've followed his poetry, I've come to see and to experience myself how such pain can lead eventually to an accepting joy in the face of life. I hope that such a joy will also come, in the fullness of time, to those grieving parents. In the meantime, my heart is with them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

a raw hide

No heart has ever softened yet among these hearts of stone.

No one has ever melted yet among these frozen ones.

Your tanner hasn't yet begun; this hide is still quite raw.

No one here has yet been struck, God, by your awe.

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

Key words: hearts of stone

On one of the forums, I've been discussing FGM, female genital mutilation, and trying to convince circumcised males that they were also the victims of a mutilation, the main purpose of which is to harden the hearts of human beings, especially the mother who must deliver her baby boy to this cruel procedure. I've urged a change of view because I believe that male rejection of this neonatal mutilation would assist in the eradication of the more severe female version of this stone heartedness. Male circumcision is interesting because it closely involves the three major players in today's international conflicts: the Jews (for whom it is a deeply religious ritual), the Muslims (for whom it is a custom without Quranic reference), and the Yanks (for whom it became common on prudish grounds). It will be hardest for the Jews to abandon this practice and it should really be a piece of cake inside modern America (though sadly it isn't). It is a great opportunity for Muslims, especially those in the West, to take a moral lead.

Rumi doesn't often speak directly about God in his quatrains, so this one today is unusual. It sounds to me like a pretty forthright condemnation of the level of development of humanity at his own stage in history. No huge improvement is evident even today. A hard heart is a heart without empathy, a frozen heart is ruled by formulations. The living reality of the present, a suffering quivering human being, is blanketed out. Such a heart performs a ritual, a habit, a custom, and shuts its ears to the baby's scream. No one who professes love, as Rumi did, could act so coldheartedly. Where a soul is truly touched by Rumi, it will melt, I'm sure. However, there is not too much evidence of large scale melting even among his devotees. Perhaps we all have parts of our souls that cannot be softened, no matter what, by no matter whom.

I've also completed my reading of Erich Fromm's To Have or to Be? which I found most exhilarating as I entered the third and final part, The New Man and the New Society. However, towards the end, I found it disappointing, perhaps an indication of the limitations of Fromm's vision. For the time (1976) that he wrote, he was certainly very up-to-date and he does write passionately about the New Man (a precursor, surely, of the SNAG) and of a New Science of Man. He is careful, in the Foreword, to explain that he uses "Man" in a general nonsex-differentiated sense. However, this use has not caught on and today, it sounds dated and still a tad patriarchal. In fact, this is the problem I have with Fromm's conclusions. They sound too patriarchally authoritarian despite his humane delivery and softening provisos.

My chief concern in his New Science of Man is this one. It would operate along a similar model to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), except that it would advise on what is good or bad for the soul of humanity, based on ongoing scientific research. A "Supreme Cultural Council" would be set up "charged with the task of advising the government, the politicians, and the citizens in all matters in which knowledge is necessary". This all sounds, to me, like a social scientist's egomaniacal fantasy of salvation.

However, he does make other recommendations that I can fully support. He acknowledges that these are not original and indeed, many are found elsewhere. However, there is one that, to my mind, receives too little attention. Fromm puts the recommendation like this:

  • Many of the evils of present-day capitalist and communist societies would disappear with the introduction of a guaranteed yearly income.

As Fromm further elaborates, this expresses "an unconditional right to live, regardless of whether they do their 'duty to society.' It is a right we guarantee to our pets, but not to our fellow beings." This is a view that I have seen forcefully put also by Bertrand Russell (possibly in his "In Praise of Idleness"). Russell envisions a poet working away in a cheap room, guaranteed of enough income, at least, to feed himself on potatoes and cabbage, but with no strings attached, no need to justify his "work" to any bureaucrat. Russell argues that neglected or out-of-fashion work such as this might be needed by a society that has lost sight of its importance. This whole issue is one of my hobby horses so I had better put on the brakes! It is important, I think, because we are so far from instituting it while it is so crucial to human freedom and dignity.

One last small but intriguing observation. Fromm includes Rumi among the recommended reading in his bibliography, despite never mentioning him once in the book itself!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

the error of perfection

My love is beautiful -- one of her faults.

Delicate... soft... that's two and three.

But what's the reason people really shun her?

She's perfect, faultless, that's the sin they flee.

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

Key word: faults

I feel I'm living in a world of faults and errors, a world especially of arrogance and ignorance. Whenever I have close exchanges with Muslims, I come away with this creepy feeling. I think it is the jarring combination of the other's "I know it all" stand with my observation that the person knows very little that sends me into a frenzy of frustration. What makes it especially exasperating is that I can see that I have the same effect on the other.

So here is Rumi with an antidote for this pain. Here is his beautiful love, riddled with the faults of her perfection. Here is Rumi being most characteristic, laying opposites on top of each other. Error and perfection.

Yesterday, we examined the door that is often referred to as a rose. It's easier for me to imagine a rose, a perfect rose. Or because I especially fancy the hibiscus flower, I might imagine that. When it stands before me, in its brief moment of perfect bloom, there is nothing I can do. There is nothing left for me to do. I feel totally useless and without purpose.

It's quite different if I am confronted with a pile of dirty dishes or an overflowing wash basket. It's quite clear then what my purpose here on earth consists of. If I am confronted with an arrogant or ignorant person (a Christian creationist will do as well as a Muslim), I know quite well why God has placed me on this earth. But what happens if I see life, if I see the world, as perfect? What happens if I reach this beatific vision? I will suddenly be rendered useless!

We are born with this God-given gift for interference, for improving what is there, for striving for progress. We can never simply let things be. This seems to be Rumi's message here.

And yet, of course, by striving to reach others, by exerting the effort to compose these quatrains, Rumi is trying to improve us all. He is trying to increase the moments when each of us is simply contemplating the rose. He is trying to increase the number of people that do it consciously for at least a small part of every day. He asks us to overcome our fear of purposelessness and just let it be, just let it be.

And once we are rested and restored, then we can attack that pile of rubbish needing our attention. Only this time we might see it differently. We might see it as a rose after all.

Monday, March 06, 2006

dawn revealed

Oh, when you remind me of her door,

I feel the rapture bubbling up once more.

How can I forget that blessing, ever,

When you bring to mind long buried treasure?

#1693: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: door

My eye has been drawn to the door imagery that turned up also in yesterday's quatrain. In English, door resonates with dawn and I think of the origin of the day. When a man speaks of a woman as standing at her door, it's not hard to imagine our doorway into this world, into life, the passage through which the dawn of our lives unfolded. There are always deeper, evolving meanings inside this imagery of life's beginnings. As Rumi puts it, there is long buried treasure there, deep and almost forgotten memories. Perhaps, for a man, the first time he is with a woman becomes an evocative moment of origins, of newness, of wonder. Perhaps this is why many men tire of a woman once the first penetration has been achieved. After this, she loses her symbolic value as Virgin Goddess. Fromm would say that once his Having is accomplished his Being is lost and forgotten. He searches for it anew when all he needs is a simple reminder and a sensitive awareness of a rapture bubbling up once more.

Ironically, the most realistic and straightforward artistic depiction of this door is nevertheless immensely powerful. It is as if this artistic honesty unveils the mystery more effectively than any coy romantic setting could achieve.

L'Origine du monde

Gustave Courbet: L'Origine du monde @


Sunday, March 05, 2006

love at the door

If I was not so pitifully in love

I wouldn't then be standing at your door.

Don't say, "Go away, don't stand at my door!"

I wouldn't exist, my dear, if I didn't stand here.

#1923: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: love

I have been feeling put off of late, finding it hard to love a Rumi who is a devout Muslim. I've been interacting with one or two Muslims who insist that Rumi is like a carbon-copy of Mohammad. When I interact with Rumi's verses, I cannot see Mohammad anywhere. Sometimes a Quranic verse is echoed inside a passage in the Mathnawi, sometimes that work includes stories of "the Prophet" and other Abrahamic figures. However, the Shams quatrains are very "pure" to me. They allow me to love Rumi and still despise the character and writings of Mohammad.

Someone on the list where the interaction is occurring asked: "With all due respects to your you really love Rumi? He was a confirmed muslim you know. :)" The questioner is a Muslim woman addressing a non-Muslim woman with all of the catty venom she can muster.

Another example, this time from a male:
To Come under The Blessing of The Prophet is to be enfolded in His Being directly . Yes truly! ALL are under The Blessing of Allah through Ther Prophet but most expereince it very indirectly only enough to keep them limping along as though crippled. The one who consciously seeks and surrenders to The Blessing of Allah through THE PROPHET is directly plugged into the power source of LIFE and thus are able to live a much freer , more deeply satisfying . and expressive LIFE.

This kind of talk fills me with loathing and disgust. I've expressed my views there frankly, that is all that I can do. I guess that "Rumi" is different things to different people and the "love" we each have for him varies accordingly. Since my own love is shaken and being challenged, I decided to search under this simple but so difficult word today.

It doesn't matter - does it? - how Rumi meant his verse to be read. The verse stands there, that is all. I am an old woman living in the 21st century, reading a verse written by a middle-aged man in the 13th century. It reads, to me, like a letter sent across that vast distance, addressed especially to me. Poets of great genius have a way of reaching each individual very very personally like that. Today, he is insisting that he is there; he is insisting that he could not exist except by standing at my door. I am moved by a great love for this strange man and nowhere can I hear him ask that I change how I feel about Mohammad.

Rumi is purported to have spoken most clearly on this subject in the following quatrain:

I am the servant of the Qur'ân as long as I have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one.
If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings,
I am quit of him and outraged by these words.

Rumi's Quatrain No. 1173, translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Ravan Farhadi, as yet not published but available at

A lot hangs, of course, on just how "authentic" these words are, what they meant to Rumi at the time, and whether he would still stand by Mohammad and the Quran today. When I read these words, I don't hear the Rumi I am used to in the quatrains that I have been working with. This number, 1173, doesn't appear on the list of first lines that I use. It seems to stand outside, it seems quite odd.

Certainly, I have detected many times in Rumi a rejection of dogmatic and literalistic interpretations of Islam. Certainly, I would accept that there is an authentic spiritual core within the sayings of Mohammad. However, I reject its purported universalism because I see it as soaked in its own parochialism. The universal and the parochial messages are too much intertwined and Muslims today often confuse the two. This, I think, is the difficulty. The sorting of the wheat from the chaff.

I suspect this issue will take a long time to resolve, not only in my own mind but within the forum and list conversations. For now, my position stands as I first stated it on the list:

I am neither Muslim, nor Jew, nor Gentile. I do not love "the Prophet". I love Rumi and I see nothing in his poetry to suggest that my lack of love for "the Prophet" is any kind of hindrance. Quite the contrary.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

a call to laugh

Why so happy to laugh with your mouth shut?

You should laugh like a flower, without a care.

Love that leaps from the soul is not the same thing

As love you hang round your neck by a string.

#1781: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: laugh

I'm continuing with the theme of joy and laughter, inspired especially after revisiting via DVD a very old but classic movie, Michael Cacoyannis' Zorba The Greek (aka Alexis Zorbas, 1964), based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and with music by Mikis Theodorakis. It's astonishing that it won only 3 Oscars with Anthony Quinn and Cacoyannis himself missing out. It was up against George Cukor's magnificent My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison taking the leading male Oscar. Today, if I was forced to choose only one of these two movies to keep, I'd go with Zorba. There is enduring wisdom in it, both tragedy and mirth, a blend of fantasy and reality, a single exquisite love scene, and such a joyous ending. It hugely lacks glamour but is none the worse for it.

Zorba is famous for being so quotable and this one is my own favourite:

Alexis Zorba: God has a very big heart but there is one sin he will not forgive
[slaps table]
Alexis Zorba: if a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go. I know because a very wise old Turk told me.

This reference to "a very wise old Turk" and Zorba's reliance on dance when his soul is full brought Rumi to mind. Kazantzakis was a great student of religion and of mysticism and he wrote a good deal about it, both directly and by infusion into his novels. It makes perfect sense that he would embody the Sufi spirit inside this Zorba character.

The most moving and powerful moment in the film (and novel) for me is the slaying of the widow. In the film, it is done briefly, the blood and cutting are off-screen, and the intact corpse on the ground suggests that she simply had her throat slit. In the book, she is beheaded. This is the dark side of both book and film, the cruelty and barbarity of the local Cretans. There is a vicious realism to it, perhaps a harsh point to be made. I wish it were not true but I know it is.

Irene Papas

Irene Papas in the role of the widow @

When I look at Rumi's verse for today, I see in it a call to men to open up and feel the joy of life, much as Zorba does. He can call all he wishes but women are not free to express themselves, not in Islamic communities nor even in places like Crete that have been touched by Islamic values. It's been 700 years now since Rumi died (in 1273) and the relative freedom today of Turkish women is not down to him but to secular humanist influences coming from "the West". As much as I believe that Rumi had a great heart, a great genius, and a deeply saintly character, I have to admit that he had little moral or political influence on Islam as a whole. He was and remains overshadowed by Mohammad and the greatly inferior literary effort that is the Quran.

Today, there is a woman capable of speaking to Arabs in their own tongue, a woman "with balls", with passionate fire, with unstoppable élan. Her name is Wafa Sultan and you can hear her here (or read a transcript here).

Go, girl, go!

Friday, March 03, 2006

a rare catch or two

A rare catch has come my way, what am I to do?

She's put my head in such a daze, what am I to do?

I'm a hypocrite, a phony... When a beauty

Gives a kiss like this, what's a holy man to do?

#1142: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: catch

This morning I decided to catch this one as it passed by. Simply because it has a catchiness to it. It has a characteristic Rumi humour, resembling a Gallic shrug. Poor helpless Rumi, how can he help himself? How can he help but fall in love with life and with the world around him?

This perpetual joy is what characterizes the mystic saint, the true holy man. Fromm discusses this in his section on "Joy - Pleasure" and provides this little gem from Eckhart, "one of the most beautiful and poetic expressions of the idea of the creative power of laughter and joy":

When God laughs at the soul and the soul laughs back at God, the persons of the Trinity are begotten. To speak in hyperbole, when the Father laughs to the Son and the Son laughs back to the Father, that laughter gives pleasure, that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love and love gives the persons [of the Trinity] of which the Holy Spirit is one.

- Meister Eckhart, translation by Raymond Blakney, as quoted by Fromm in "To have or to be?"

Apart from being poetic, this short piece from Eckhart provides a new structure. It introduces a third element into the divine-human (God-man, father-son, lover-beloved, sol-luna) equation. The Holy Spirit as dove appears in the following alchemical illustration:

alchemical trinity

Plate 2, Rosarium philosophorum @

In Rumi, I think this third element, this Holy Spirit, is left unsaid or silent. It expresses itself through a joy that speaks out of his verses, that is all.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

having a heart

No way can I take back my heart from you;

Better then surrender it unto

Your passion, ease your aching love - if not,

What use is it, why even have a heart?

#1104: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: take

Today, yet again, I've discovered Rumi unable to get his heart back. This translation has an awkward feel: it's not usual for a statement or idea to travel across two lines as happens at the second and third lines. It's common, of course, in modern poetry, just not in a 13th century Sufi quatrain. In addition, the "you" in the first line relates to the beloved while the "your aching love" in the third relates to the lover. The voice in the first line is answered by a different voice in the following three lines. This is not a common device in Rumi (unless I have simply failed to notice it until now).

This verse is the fourth, in recent times, that I can associate with Fromm's idea of the contrast between the "having" and the "being" modes of existence. A fifth verse, commented on much earlier, is at the source of life and I will repeat it below, so that these related pieces will stay closer together.

All souls alive have souls; not so soul itself.
There's bread to suit all men, but what feeds bread?
You can shift and make do for any good thing
In life except for the source of life itself.

And I'll leave it at that, for now.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

as I am a woman

I said I would take my heart back from you, but I can't,

Or that I would live on without this pain, but I can't.

I said I would banish desire for you, but I can't.

I swear to you, as I am a man, I can't.

#1296: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Today's quatrain seems like an obvious follow-on from yesterday's where Rumi was pleading to have his heart back. In this one, he is insisting that he simply cannot take it back. He is caught up, committed, trapped, enthralled. And he keeps repeating "I can't". He is clearly aware here of some inner imperative and he is identifying it with manliness. He is talking of soul things: courage, suffering, aspiration. There are no outer actions implied, no evident behavioural consequences.

I've been focussing more and more of late on the current historical and political developments in and around Islam. I've been wondering how that relates to Rumi and especially to the soul. Is the soul merely "inner" and therefore disconnected from these "outer" happenings?

This morning, I read in my local newspaper a Muslim lawyer's apologist response to a recent statement by Australia's Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, to the effect that Muslims seeking to introduce sharia law should leave the country. Here is an excerpt:

Indeed, Costello's comments about those seeking to establish sharia in Australia do not go far enough. What he should have said was that those seeking to establish only sharia (outward liturgy) without its spirit (inner liturgy or the spirit of the law) should find another country and another religion.

Christ castigated rabbis who followed the letter, but ignored the spirit, of sacred law. Muslims believe the sharia to be an updated version of the same law, the outer manifestation of the same Abrahamic values. However, this must exist in tandem with an inner manifestation - given a variety of labels by Muslims and commonly known in the West as sufism.

A minority of Muslims seek to establish sharia without sufism across the world. They are the source of virtually all terrorist groups in the Muslim world. Their theology is regarded by mainstream Muslims as isolationist and fringe. They distort sharia by imposing it on people without the inner discipline of sufism. They are openly hostile to sufi tradition.

These people seek to destroy Islam from within. They are arguably more of a threat to Muslims than non-Muslims. Hence, the majority of their victims are Muslims. Costello would like to see such people leave Australia. Most Muslims, on the other hand, would prefer to see these people leave our planet.

Irfan Yusef: A soulless distortion of Islamic law

Yusef is identifying sharia with outer manifestation here and insisting that it should be accompanied by "its spirit" or inner manifestation, that he identifies with sufism. Sharia on its own is without soul. Sharia combined with sufism seems, by implication, to be fine.

I find all of this quite confusing. Sufism is not something you can establish or insist on. Soul is not something you can legislate for. You can ask that a person not yield to temptation, but you cannot ask that the temptation never occur. What the soul desires is not subject to the "free will" that must be assumed in tandem with legal judgment. If, as Rumi insists, "I can't" (but follow my natural inner law) then how I can be punished for this? It simply makes no sense.

I suspect that Yusef is trying to apply the law to more and more private areas of our lives. If he had his way, if he had his sharia and his distorted sufism, we would all become accountable for our beliefs, for our aspirations, for our opinions and convictions. Sheesh! Give me sharia on its own any day in lieu of this additional mind policing.

Yusef is also wrong in regard to the facts about sharia and sufism. As a typical apologist, he trundles out the usual rhetoric about "a minority of Muslims" who want sharia without sufism. This supposedly insignificant minority rules and dominates in Saudi Arabia in the guise of Wahhabism. It stands guard over the Muslim sacred sites. Every Muslim performing the Hajj enters a country where Sufism is outlawed. What is "minority" about that?

In a different guise as radical Shi'a Islam, this sharia-only "minority" rules over Iran, a Muslim nation forthrightly vowing to exterminate the Jews of Israel and to use a developing nuclear capability to achieve that. This is neither a "minority" nor an insignificant or powerless force in world politics.

Wahhabism and Salafism also cover large sectors of Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries. They are technically a minority but, through their readiness to resort to violence, they have far more influence than their numbers alone would suggest.

As for Sufism, it remains alive in the poetry and the music. These are things that cannot so easily be tampered with or controlled. Almost every other aspect of Sufism, however, is strictly controlled. The Sufi schools are run along dogmatic, ritualistic, "outer manifestation" lines every bit as bad as the regular mindless madrassas. Sufism is not a significant force within the Islamic world, neither in an institutional sense nor in a spiritual sense.

There really is only one kind of sharia in the world today: it is a sharia without soul. Just like Allah, sharia takes no partners. And just like sharia and just like Allah, Islam itself is without soul.

Dear Irfan Yusef, You might fool some of the people some of the time but I see right through your empty pretensions.

And you know what? I feel totally loyal to Rumi in speaking up like that. And furthermore, I feel totally loyal to my womanhood, just as he felt loyal to his manhood.