Sunday, April 02, 2006

pleasure and pain

My heart delights in the garden of your face

And the honey of your cruelty's bitter taste.

Of the sorrow itself, I do not complain

But only your pleasure at hearing my pain.

#1259: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Al-Ghazali was an 11th/12th century Sufi who greatly influenced Rumi's father and Rumi in turn. His name has been linked with the darker side of Islam in Andrew Bostom's The Legacy of Jihad. In a foreward to the book, Ibn Warraq writes:

Dr. Bostom is the first scholar to have had translated from the Arabic the works of commentators on Sura IX.29 like al-Baydawi, al-Suyuti, al-Zamakhshari, and al-Tabari. Other primary sources translated for the first time into English include documents on Jihad such as the one written by al-Ghazali , the celebrated Islamic Mystic or Sufi , laying to rest the myth that Sufis always interpreted jihad as an inner moral struggle against one’s lower instincts. Muslim jurists and philosophers include Shiites al-Hilli and al-Amili (the latter translated from Persian), and representatives of all four Schools of Sunni Jurisprudence, Averroes (Maliki) , Ibn Taymiyya (Hanbali) , Shaybani (Hanafi), al-Mawardi (Shafi`i) , Ibn Qudama (Hanbali), and Ibn Khaldun (Maliki).

[my emphasis]

Looking over the biography of al-Ghazali, I can see that his book on jurisprudence, al-Wajiz or "The Digest", was most likely written before his conversion to Sufism following a mental breakdown. In that case, Ibn Warraq has got it all wrong and al-Ghazali's inclusion in this testimony to Islamic violence says nothing more about Sufism than a report of Saul's brutal persecution of Christians would tell us of Paul and of his fellow Christian evangelists. In fact, to me, it says that Sufism might be a response to the violence, an eventual moral repulsion that builds up and must find expression somehow.

It's clear that Rumi was reaching beyond the opposites, whether envisaged as outer enemies or as inner conflictual realities. In today's verse he is exploring pain and pleasure, complaint and resignation, sadism and masochism. Here is the sweet and the sour, the bitter and the smooth, all jumbled up together yet in an ordered rhyme. Since Rumi's "you" is his beloved and he knows he is identical with this "you", the pleasure in pain is both sadistic and masochistic, both pain and pleasure, the opposites united in the lovers' consummation.

I have trouble with this. I only want to complain about pain. I only want to accept pleasure, only resign myself to more pleasure. If only all pain could go away... And yet loss of pain or sensitivity is precisely the leper's curse. We scratch our skin when something foreign has landed on it or an inflammation is coming up. When we fail to notice the small injury and to respond to it, it becomes a larger and more serious injury. This is why lepers were plagued with horrid skin diseases. So a little pain is a good thing and something we should listen to and respond to. Pain is a kind of message to us, a message demanding action in return.

At present, I've become all too aware of the pain that Islam is imposing on my culture and my world. I cannot reach beyond that awareness to see any good in it. The mysticism of a Sufi, of a Rumi, needs no element of Islam. It is very very rare for Rumi to mention Mohammad and even when he mentions God, he uses the Persian Khudr and not the Arabic Allah. Islamic architecture and calligraphy is beautiful and should be spared but its ideology and main message is no good to anyone and never really has been. The truly pious Muslim will always be able to pray and pray most purely, like the man in the photo below, simply by using his own hands in a gesture of supplication, no more. The Quran itself contains too much evil to be revered as a sacred text. Its only future should be as an historical document, recording the greatest human shame.


Post a Comment

<< Home