I took a class on Islam during my undergraduate years, and really enjoyed it. The class was taught by a female Sufi professor named Dr. Amina Wadud, who it seems is rather famous for being an Islamic feminist and proponent for women as imams, especially after leading a prayer service instead of letting a male imam, the only ones allowed to do it according to Islamic law, in 2005. I took the class in about 2001-2002, so she had only written her book Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacret Text from a Woman’s Perspective at that time, which was one of the texts used in class (I think I will re-read it). If anyone is interested in Dr. Wadud or her beliefs, please check out this article she wrote for the New Internationalist magazine in 2002.
Anyways, a few years ago, I become interested in Persian poetry and history, and read The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which lead me later towards Sufi poetry, such as Doorkeeper of the Heart: Versions of Rabi’a by Rabi’a al-Adawiyah, translated by Charles Upton. Sufism, or Tasawwuf (as it is called in Arabic) is essentially Islamic mysticism. As explained through this University of Georgia webpage on the subject,
“Sufis see themselves to be on a spiritual journey toward God. In order to guide spiritual travellers and to express the states of consciousness experienced on this journey, Sufis produced an enormously rich body of literature, often using a specialized technical vocabulary. This journey is referred to as the path (tariqah). While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to God and will become close to God in Paradise–after death and the “Final Judgment”– Sufis believe as well that it is possible to become close to God and to experience this closeness–while one is alive. Furthermore, the attainment of the knowledge that comes with such intimacy with God, Sufis assert, is the very purpose of the creation.”
Usually whenever I think of Sufism, aside from the poetry, I think about the whirling dervishes. Traditionally called Mevlevi Ritual Dance or Sema, and have several different parts and meanings, as explained on this page. The dances were inspired by Sufi poet Rumi, the most well-known Persian poet of all time, and originated in Turkey. Today I went to the Musical Instrument Museum and was lucky enough to see a Mevlevi costume from Turkey. To find out more about Rumi and the popularity of his poetry (and yes there is a bit of book plugging), check out this interview.
A Moment Of Happiness
by: Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi
A moment of happiness,
you and I sitting on the verandah,
apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.
We feel the flowing water of life here,
you and I, with the garden’s beauty
and the birds singing.
The stars will be watching us,
and we will show them
what it is to be a thin crescent moon.
You and I unselfed, will be together,
indifferent to idle speculation, you and I.
The parrots of heaven will be cracking sugar
as we laugh together, you and I.
In one form upon this earth,
and in another form in a timeless sweet land.
My joy —
by: Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya
My joy —
My Hunger —
My Shelter —
My Friend —
My Food for the journey —
My journey’s End —
You are my breath,
My abundant wealth.
Without You — my Life, my Love —
I would never have wandered across these endless countries.
You have poured out so much grace for me,
Done me so many favors, given me so many gifts —
I look everywhere for Your love —
Then suddenly I am filled with it.
O Captain of my Heart
Radiant Eye of Yearning in my breast,
I will never be free from You
As long as I live.
Be satisfied with me, Love,
And I am satisfied.