Saturday, November 19, 2005

love's jihad

You've had your fill, not me. What's the remedy?

Who can take your place, the place of life's own source?

'Just wait,' you say, 'Have faith, you'll have your due.'

I slave for faith! What faith is there but you?

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

I'm selecting the verse at random again today, just taking what comes along next. The theme here suggests a situation in which there is a completion for one or more parties but not for all. It reminds me of eating with a companion where he finishes first and leaves me feeling lonely over my still laden plate. It's also a common moan of lovers: You finished too soon and left me behind. It has taken me a long time to learn not to take it too personally and more: to find the courage to go back in pursuit of the lover that has ditched me. We leave too many bits of ourselves behind if we try to shrug off these defeats.

There is a passage from the Masnavi that I especially love and, if I've quoted it already, well, here I go again.

65-The prayer that was answered

A certain man one night was crying 'Allah!' till his lips were becoming sweet with the mention of his name.

'Why now, chatterbox,' said the Devil, 'where is the answer "Here am I" to all this "Allah" of yours? Not one answer is coming from the Throne: how long will you grimly go on crying "Allah"?'

The man became broken-hearted, and laid down his head to sleep. He saw in a dream mystic Khazir* all in a green garden.

'Look now,' Khazir called, 'why have you desisted from the mention of God? How is it you repent of having called upon Him?'

'No answering "Here am I" is coming to me,' the man replied, 'and I therefore fear that I may be refused from His door.'

Khazir answered, 'Your cry of "Allah" (God says) is itself My "Here am I"; your pleading and agony and fervour is My messenger. All your twistings and turnings to come to Me were My drawing you that set free your feet. Your fear and love are the lasso to catch My grace. Under each "Allah" of yours whispers many a "Here am I".'


* Khazir was a mysterious guide who first appears in Koran XVIII 64 (not named, but identified by the commentators as 'one of Our servants unto whom We had given mercy from Us, and We had taught him knowledge proceeding from Us') as accompanying Moses and doing strange things. The Sufis took him as the exempler of the Shaikh who requires absolute and unquestioning obedience of the disciple.

For the man in the story here, "Allah" is the name of the beloved, the one sought after. For Rumi it was "Shams", for Dante "Beatrice", and so on. The name is but a pointer to the same mystery that lies beyond and the mystery of the longing itself is the nearest pointer we can ever find. Despite this commonality, it is crucial that we say the name that is important to us. "Beatrice" will only work for Dante, "Shams" for Rumi, and "Allah" for a devout Muslim. To ask someone to use a different word than that of their beloved is a crime (oft committed by Muslim and Christian alike) for it is the very specificity of the beloved that matters. The "Here am I" can only whisper forth from the name of the very particular person that I have chosen to love or, more correctly, that love has chosen for me. For each of us, the name of the beloved is the true name of God. The great inspiring struggle of these verses is Rumi's hold on this so personal and particular faith of his, his refusal to lose his love despite having lost his beloved. This is Islam's true jihad.


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