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Center for Action and Contemplation

Primordial Light

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Primordial Light
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!
—Hafiz (c. 1320–1389) [1]

Sufism is the mystical arm of Islam. Mainline Islam, like most organized religions, largely emphasizes practical expressions and behaviors, whereas Sufism developed and emphasized the interior life. [2] Poet Daniel Ladinsky (who has been inspired by Sufi poets like Rumi and Hafiz) writes that “their ‘way’ has always existed, under many names, in many lands, associated with the mystical dimension of every spiritual system.” The special emphasis of Sufism is “intense, often ecstatic, one-pointed devotion to God.” [3] If you have ever seen a Sufi Dervish twirl around one pivot, as I was privileged to witness in Turkey, all the message is contained therein.

Avideh Shashaani, an Iranian-American poet and translator of Sufi mystic texts, reflects on how Sufism points to our True Self as the image of God:

My understanding of Islam has come through Sufism—the interior life of Islam. Islam, like any religion, may be viewed as a spectrum of light—ranging from the fundamentalists to the mystics. Our place on this spectrum depends on our level of spiritual expansion and knowledge.

In the Islamic tradition, we are considered to be an amazing weave of heaven and earth [spirit and matter]. Islam does not see us as sinful beings to be redeemed, but as neglectful and forgetful beings endowed with the primordial light.

When we “step” across the boundary of the divine realm into the world and become forgetful of our reality, we are in a state of transgression. Forgetfulness is what we must constantly struggle against.

The message of Islam is meant to guide us to uncover our true identity deeply buried under the layers of our neglectful nature. The Qur’an says “[God] created man in the best of stature” (95:4), and says that “[God is] closer to him than his jugular vein” (50:16). The duties prescribed for the Muslim are directed toward uncovering our primordial nature and remembering our covenant with God, “‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes, we bear witness’” (7:172). The memory of the covenant rests deep within our souls. This is why the remembrance of God is central in Islam. . . .

In the Islamic mystical tradition, the reality of “I” is not separate from the Ultimate Reality. “I” is that divine inspiration that imbues life from the Beginning. . . . Sufis often refer to a hadith [a saying of the Prophet Muhammad], “Whoever knows himself knows his Lord.” Ibn al Arabi, the 12th century Islamic mystic from Andalusia, writes [with amazing similarity to the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart’s “The eyes with which we look back at God are the same eyes with which God looks at us”]:

When my Beloved appears,
With what eye do I see Him?
With His eye, not with mine,
For none sees Him except Himself. [4]

. . . In the remembrance of God, the mirror of the heart is polished and is able to reflect the light of God, allowing “I” to shine.

Hafiz gives us another beautiful expression of this “I” that is the “divine inspiration”:

I am
a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through—
listen to this
music. [5]

[1] Daniel Ladinsky, inspired by Hafiz, A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations (Penguin Books: 2011), xxx. Used with permission.

[2] Ibid., xvii-xviii.

[3] Ibid., xvi.

[4] Annemarie Schimmel, The Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: 1975), 266.

[5] Daniel Ladinsky, inspired by Hafiz, “The Christ’s Breath,” Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (Penguin Compass: 2002), 153. Used with permission.

Avideh Shashaani, “An Islamic Perspective on Transgression: Oneness,“Transgression,” Oneing, vol. 2, no. 1 (CAC Publications: 2014), 24-27.

Image Credit: Muslims Praying toward Mecca (detail). Engraving.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the Qur’an, faith (iman) is something that people do: they share their wealth, perform the “works of justice” (salihat), and prostrate their bodies to the ground in the kenotic, ego-deflating act of prayer (salat). —Karen Armstrong
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