Final Essay

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Response 5: Cover for a mirror

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I created a cover for a mirror to represent the stages in the journey of the birds to find the Simurgh.  There are 7 covers representing the 7 valleys given in the book. After flipping over all of them, one can gaze into the mirror and this represents the birds realizing that they are the Simurgh and there is only 1 Reality. In using an everyday object, I was trying to capture the idea of the sufi experience as a daily lived experience, not a one-time high, or a occasional foray into esotericism. It is bothersome to open so many covers, and flipping through them to view the mirror will at first be slow but later faster as the user becomes more and more familiar with the pictures. This accurately captured for me the stages in the sufi experience in a very simple and visual manner. In addition to be artistically beautiful, I think pictures also cause us to sit and contemplate and contemplation leads to the divine.

The 7 covers depict scenes from the 7 valleys which are written on the back and thus are visible when flipped over.

First Cover: THE VALLEY OF THE QUEST

This shows a man digging depicting the story of Majnun and Layla
One day Majnun was sifting earth in the middle of a road. A pious man said to him: “Oh Majnun, what are you seeking here?”“I seek Layla,” replied Majnun. “How can you find Layla here?” said the other. “Could a pearl so pure be found in such rubbish?”“Well” said Majnun, “I seek her everywhere, so that one day I may find her somewhere.”

Second Cover: THE VALLEY OF LOVE

After the first valley, comes the valley of Love. Whoever sets foot in it, is plunged in fire….

Third Cover: THE VALLEY OF MYSTIC KNOWLEDGE

On this path of spiritual knowledge each one finds a different turning. One is taken to an idol, another to the Mihrab. One adopts idolatry , whereas the other embraces the faith . When the sun of knowledge dawns on the horizon of this road, each one receives illumination according to his merit and finds the task assigned to him in the knowledge of the truth.

Fourth Cover: THE VALLEY OF DETACHMENT

Although you see here a whole world on fire, ablaze to its very core, I know that it is no more than a dream. …..Should heaven and earth be split up into minute atoms, take it that a leaf has fallen from a tree. …. Were all forms to vanish from the earth, were not even a single hair of a living being to survive, what is there to fear? In short, if the part as well as the whole were totally obliterated, it would be equivalent to a mere straw disappearing from the face of the earth.

Fifth Cover: THE VALLEY OF UNITY

The region in which everything is renounced and everything unified, where there is no distinction in number and quality. ….. Whether you see many individuals in it or a small number, in reality they are but one; as all this group of individuals merely compose only one, this group is complete in its oneness. That which appears to be a unit is not different from that which appears to be a quantity…….A man asked a Sufi one day to give him some indication of what this world is. “This world full of honour and infamy,” said he, “resembles a honey­comb on which are imprinted a hundred colours. If anyone squeezes it in his hands it will become a mere mass of wax. As it is all wax and nothing else, go and rest satisfied that all these colours are also nothing.

Sixth Cover: THE VALLEY OF BEWILDERMENT AND STUPEFACTION

Here one is a prey to perpetual sadness. Every sigh is like a sword here, and every breath a piteous plaint. Here, alas! one sees blood dropping from the end of every hair, even though it has not been cut. There is lamentation, sorrow and consuming desire. It is at the same time day and night, but it is neither day nor night. There is fire in this place, and one is overcome, burnt and consumed thereby.

Last cover before the mirror: THE VALLEY OF POVERTY AND ANNIHILATION

Another butterfly thereupon sprang forward, intoxicated with love, and flung itself with violence into the flame of the candle. Putting its hands (front feet) round the neck of the flame, it lost itself completely in the flame. When the fire spread over its whole body, all its limbs turned red like the flame. When the wise butterfly witnessed this sight from a distance, it said: “What can any one know of this mystery? He alone knows it and that is all.” This one, who lost all trace of itself, knows more than others of this mystery of annihilation.

mirrorcover

Response 6: A masnavi inspired by “Complaint and Answer”

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REPROACHES

Was not Islam’s House noble, back in the Prophet’s day?
Then why has it collapsed in ruins and decay?

Did not all their banners with Allah’s name adorn?
Then why into these factions is Islam’s fabric torn?

Was it not sufficient that Allah rule alone?
Then why do claimants fight to sit on judgment’s throne?

Were not idols broken that to them none might bow?
Then why do pious scholars before their tomes kowtow?

Did not music and poem his wondrous deeds proclaim?
Then why reject the arts that honor the Maker’s name?

Was not the rule of Allah without compulsion taught?
Then why by law and sword is now submission sought?

Were not new freedoms granted to women above all?
Then why to them from kin do newer woes befall?

Were not the rich challenged by the Messenger of God?
Then why do the poor cry out from the sands where he once trod?

Did not lord and servant, in unity prostrate?
Then why does salat’s end chasms between them create.

Was not sword then wielded  to guard the poor and meek?
Then why innocent blood do modern ‘warriors’ seek?

Was it not to Love that nations did submit?
Then why do none return to the path of the prophet?

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This masnavi was written modeled on the idea of “Complaint and Answer”. As is traditional for a masnavi, the rhythm is regular with 12 syllables in every line, and an aa/bb/cc/dd etc.  rhyme scheme.

The speaker is a progressive Muslim lamenting the ossification he sees all around him, which, according to his interpretation, is at variance with the nature of Islam promoted during the lifetime of the prophet. The person the speaker complains to is left deliberately ambiguous – is it to God, for not preserving the spirit of Islam? Is it to Muslims for allowing the kind of “decay” that the speaker sees? Or is it even to himself/herself  for his/her own inability to counteract the tide?

Couplet 1 opens with the speaker lamenting the state of the Dar al-Islam in the world, and then moves speedily into considering the first cause of the decay – Islam no longer has a common purpose, or a common identity – it no longer fights under a single flag. Instead, there are “factions” – a reference to both denominational and nationalistic conflicts. The couplet then serves as an implicit call for the recognition of the fundamental unity in the belief in one God but all muslims instead of letting other conflicts obscure this.

Further on the subject of conflict, the next couplet introduces questions of authority that underline ‘factionalism’ within the Muslim community – who has the authority to determine who is and who isn’t a member of the community, to divide or unite it, and so forth. It posits that God alone is the ruler and empowered to commission interpreters such as his Messenger – other claims of derived authority are divisive and needless. It does not posit that there should be no authority, but is ambiguous in that regard, also permitting an interpretation whereby others’ judgements are also equally accepted.

Couplet 4 reacts against rigid and rigorist interpretations of the ahadith and the Quranic suwar, and their often ossified nature. The speaker feels that without development or flexibility, such fundamentalism has made new idols of approved authors and opinions, that inhibit the true and free  worship of God from the heart. Couplet 5 reacts against similar prohibitions of certain forms of art – a personal note that reflects my own belief in art and music as deeply personal and spiritually moving. The phrase “his wondrous deeds” is left ambiguous as to whether God or Mohammad is referred to – for the former, it is true, par excellence, in the Quran, its recitation and other acts connected with prayer such as the adhaan (even if many Muslims would not consider it as such). For the latter, it is true of famous poems such as the Burda of Ka’b ibn Zuhayr, and the various devotional songs in honour of the prophet.

Couplet 6 reacts against fundamentalist and totalitarian regimes in modern Islam that promote restricted interpretations that seek of codify various practices that were formerly broad in scope, according to a narrow criterion.  Whether by codifying the jurist’s law system of the Shariah into a constitutional law-code framework, or by enforcing the dictates of Islam through religious police, the speaker sees a divergence between practice and the free adoption of Islam.

Couplet 7 talks about the condition of women and the oppression they face from their “kin” – meaning, their fellow Muslims, especially in rigoriost laws often enacted by fundamentalists in certain countries.. The form of oppression however, has been left deliberately vague because of the diversity of interpretation. For example, while some adopt the language of oppression while speaking of the hijab, other women regard it as liberating in an over-sexed world.

Couplets 8 and 9 talk about the vast inequality that still exists among Muslims throughout the world, especially in the Arabian peninsula. It finds it incongruous that those who claim to uphold the Prophet’s teaching in all matters, often ignore the social justice aspect of his mission and perpetuate inequality among humankind.

Couplet 10 reacts against militant forms of Islam that seek to intimidate, arguing that practices such as suicide bombings and killing of many innocent civilians would never have been condoned by the prophet’s teachings or by the prophet himself.  This theme is carried on in the final couplet, which closes the whole poem with the crux of the argument – a return to the “path of the prophet” means for the speaker, a return to the justice, equality, freedom and love that characterized the prophet’s mission. It also forms an implicit critique of others who claim to return to the “path of the prophet” but in whose teachings, the speaker cannot find the qualities of the prophet’s mission.

Response 4: Ghazal

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I said: let me venerate you in couplets of love
She said: deeper is affection in the goblets of love.

I said: beautiful the stillness that sees lovers rejoice
She said: merrier the tavern in its riots of love.

I said: Rise, feast before the morning breeze brings the adhaan
She said: your prayer mat will be soaked with the spirits of love.

I said: lovely the morning that sees the turtledoves’ nest
She said: rich the nights that hear the nightingale’s sonnets of love.

I said: suffused is the air with perfume of the rose
She said: limp is its form for the bee’s visits of love.

I said: Accept these silks to polish your jeweled bracelets
She said: rags will do, lest they be thought trinkets of love.

I said: my love for you will endure until death robs me
She said: Be not father of a gift with limits of love.

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I wrote this poem in the style of a ghazal to celebrate a common theme of ghazals – seeking after divine love.  The rough format of the ghazal was inspired by Ghazal 35 in the translation of Hafez used in class which I had memorized. I found the “I said….she said….” dynamic to be not only a powerful visualization of the Lover-Beloved interaction that is a strong feature of this imagining of divine love, but also a helpful device in the construction of the poem. Writing couplets that were dissociated and independent in themselves was harder than I imagined, and linking them in this way (a dialogue between the lover and beloved) proved much easier.

I attempted to follow the traditional pattern of a ghazal. The meter is regular – each line has 14 syllables. There is the use of a radif, a refrain – in this case the words “of love”. This is perhaps not the most imaginative or daring of example of a radif, but I wanted something that was malleable and yet through repetition, focused one’s thoughts on the central theme of the ghazal. The qaafiya, italicized above, is a two-syllable word ending in “its”.

The ghazal also concludes, as is traditional, with a takhallus, the pen name of the author. In this case, I used one of the meanings of my name (“father of a gift”)

In constructing the ghazal, I tried to use the traditional motifs, along with other ones, constructed along a pattern of oppositions between what the Lover says and the Beloved responds.

The first couplet draws a contrast between words and actions. The Beloved prefers to drink with the Lover instead of listening to long panegyrics. The goblet here is an image of the heart while the couplets are a reference to ghazals, and mystical poetry in general. Mystical poetry, like music and other artistic forms used by Sufis, can never be an end in itself. People often fall into the trap of appreciating the beauty of a ghazal without going further than its outward form.  Such affection must arise from the heart where the true struggle is waged.

The second couplet uses the image of stillness and contrasts it with shocking displays of love in a tavern. The image of peacefulness represents a person who is placid and complacent in the practice of religion and ritual. By contrast, the Sufi is ablaze with the passion of a drunk person, and mad with love for the Beloved, and often acts in a manner outside human propriety because he/she is not bound by normal human conventions but rather illogical displays of love in which, like a drunk person, he/she is not in control of the self.

In the next couplet, rising and feasting is a reference to nocturnal practices of prayer and the idea of Sufis being in a continuous state of prayer even after the daily round of prayers have concluded. I then use the image of the prayer mat being stained with wine (a metaphor for wine) to reference the idea of the heart of the Sufi, the place where true worship/prostration before God takes place, being filled with love.

In the fourth couplet, the lover rejoins with the image of love and contentment – a morning with the picture of turtledoves, so often used to express affection. Yet the Beloved reminds the lover that it is not contentment with a personal, ritual-devotional status quo but the state of separation (i.e. “night”) and longing for the Beloved, represented by the song of the nightingale, that is paramount in life.

In the fifth couplet, the image is of a rose and its smell. Some people are overcome by the very whiff of the rose, here an image that can denote many things – primarily, God the Beloved, but even his Messenger and his teachings.  The very idea of being in union with God can often send people into a false ecstasy.  People may often only look at the externals – the music, or the dance, or another ritual – the mere smell of the rose, and be too easily overcome or fall into ecstasy. Yet as many Sufis warn, a superficial understanding of music, motivated by love of the music itself, and too much “longing for the created” can lead one astray.   A true understanding – an ethical understanding – of the ritual music is only infused with love for the Beloved, and in this way alone can it serve as a guide. As the Beloved retorts, the bee hovers around a limp – or dead rose. I thought of this image as emblematic of a sufi. Like the bee, he wishes to partake of a nectar hidden in the rose. Yet because the rose is limp – or dead – he cannot. This image seemed to capture well for me that idea of separation – in fact, its very necessity. Through embracing and accepting this state of separation, one can feel more perfectly a longing for God. It is this pure longing for God that will help the Sufi attain a true union through annilation (fana). Another interpretation that I thought of was the rose as being the pure doctrine revealed by God but killed through a lack of feeling and the mere observance of legal laws and rituals.  The  bee still represents the sufi which hovers around this dead rose, hoping to taste the nectar that lies at its center.

In the next couplet, I tried to express the idea of the necessity of an opposite and even work in the idea of, for example, the devil as the lover of God. There has to be imperfection and evil for the good to be recognized. God cannot be known as the lover without a sort of foil, a tragic lover, who is the devil. Thus what seem to be “rags” ultimately serve to highlight the preciousness of the jewel, more than silks. The interpretation is also one on the necessity of Sufi humility. The more the “silk” competes with the “jewel” the less precious the jewel. In other words, the more the nafs (ego) completes with the Divine Reality, the less can one feel the union with the Divine. On the other hand, the more one empties oneself, and becomes humble like “rags”, the more easily seen is the union of that soul with the Divine, just as the rags become precious by wrapping the jewel.

The last couplet attempts to play around with what is the idea of death, and the idea of a sufi undergoing a kind of spiritual death through annilation.

Response 3: A Shiite song in honour of Ali and memory of Karbala

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CB12songrecording Sun Mar 04 15;29;30 2012

Refrain:

Ya Ali, madad ya Ali
Anta liLlahu wali
Man yamur al-nabi
Tamur ya Imami
Sammihna, ya Ali
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Ya Amīr al-Mu’minīn, Ali!
your line in triumph and tragedy
protects the faith of all who truly
honor and bless you and your family
and cry out unceasingly
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

See ya Haydar your children,
the Prophet’s seed
set upon by the evil Yazid
abandoned, betrayed and when wearied
on desert plains left bloodied
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Madad, ya Haydar madad
your children, the Prophet’s seeds
afflicted by the foul deeds
of those serving evil Yazids
crying to you in their needs
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain

See ya Ali, your son,
Begging water for the thirsty
Holding out his innocent baby
For him, pleading the villains’ pity
But met with arrows deadly
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Ya Ali, madad ya Ali
When modern foes refuse to heed
the poor and hungry to feed
but pierce them with cruel greed
slaying the innocents’ need
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain

Ya Abu Turab, see the blessed soil
Which unselfish love has dyed
Eager in youthful pride
leaving a sorrowful bride
alongside Justice to ride.
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Madad, Ya Abu Turab
Those who, that all may be free,
Forfeit their joy and their family
Bearing burdens of misery
Out of love and loyalty
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain

See ya Asad, your offspring
Who life’s drink with life did gain
Tenderness sent him forth with skein
Courage made him evil’s bane
Only death did him restrain
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Madad ya Asad, madad
who heroic struggles wage
following history’s brightest page
to contain unjust rampage
and bring life unto their age
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain

Ya Murtadha, see your son
Whose blood ascends to the sky!
To answer his people’s cry
he went forth to suffer and to die
an off’ring to God the Most High
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Madad, ya Murtadha, madad
All those who stand in the light
To save the poor in their plight
sacrificing to oppression’s might
life and liberty for right
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain

Hear ya Ali, the keening
That accompanies the little child
Anguish in countenance mild
Cradling the body defiled,
with Princely head now reviled.
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Madad, ya Ali, madad
Children who your care await
Robbed by terror, war and hate
Of the love that did them create
Leaving them to a bleak fate
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain

See ya Haydr, your daughter
Dragged in a shameful parade
Before a tyrant displayed
Yet with words sharper than a blade
She the pure faith thus saved.
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Madad, ya Haydr, madad
your daughters, lowly and mean
when foes their rights demean,
fighting against courage unseen
that proclaims the truth of deen
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain

See, ya Imamee, the people
Who come to this tragic shrine
Of the  holy martyr line
that with luminousness divine
will  in their hearts ever shine
Ya Ali madad! Ya Ali!

Madad, ya Imami, madad
Those who honor your bloodline
And strive their lives to align
By this pledge of justice divine
Pleading  from coast to coastline
Ya Ali, madad! ya Ali!

Refrain
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This project was done as a response to the readings on Karbala and the Miracle Play of the Martyrdom of Hussein. The events of Karbala form an integral part of the collective Shia memory – a memory that is kept alive through threatre, processions, ritual days, and other practices. I created this song which is meant to be sung in memory of Karbala, but not necessarily in direct relation to Muharram.  The tune is a popular devotional tune created in the late 19th century and used in Hindu hymns of veneration.

The song actually is addressed not to Hussein, but somewhat atypically to ‘Ali, the first post-Prophetic Imam and 4th Caliph (or first according to the Shia interpretation). The reason for this was not only to depict the great reverence in which the Shia hold the figure of ‘Ali (and his descendants through the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima) but also because I wanted to establish a connection that many Shii see in the continued opposition to the Imam – an opposition which began at the time of ‘Ali. In a sense, the events at Karbala are only a continuation and amplification of the rejection and opposition that ‘Ali himself met with during his life.

The song is structured around a refrain, first in honour of Ali alone, and then in honour of his family. The verses introduce various themes of Karbala and link them to associated themes in the modern day, for which the Imam’s help is requested. This is to reflect the idea that the Imam is concerned with the preservation of true religion and piety on earth – which encompasses the social welfare of the populace. It was also influenced by our section discussion on how the Taziyeh plays are a way for people to come to terms with their own suffering in life, by relating them to the suffering of the Imam Hussein. The song is heavily geared toward the intercessory ability of the imam – in this case, Ali. The song is arranged around the invocation “Ya Ali madad!”, “Help O Ali!”, that is said to have been uttered by the Prophet himself.

The refrain acknowledges the central role of ‘Ali and forms a quasi-confession of belief in the imamate. The singer acknowledges that Ali is the “friend of God”, “wali Allah”, as many Shii recite in/intersperse with the adhaan, “Ashhadu ana Alian waliullah”  [ to be completely accurate, for reasons of rhyme, the song says “to/for God, you are the wali” which has a slight different connotation than “wali allah”]. It then goes on to give a Shiite interpretation based on the saying “Man kunto Maula fa  hadha ‘Ali-un-Maula”. The Shia interpret “Maula” to be “Master” (as opposed simply “friend”, a view advocated by the Sunni) and the song translates this sentiment in the words “Whoever the Prophet commands, you command, O Ali!”. Given the ‘high’ view of the power of the Prophet, even in the supernatural realm, this statement also serves as a reminder that ‘Ali (and his descendants) command more than simply humans, and thus have a greater power to help the believer.  The first part of the refrain then concludes by asking for the kindness/indulgence of the Imam for the faults against justice, and imploring his help once again. The second part of the refrain acknowledges the role of ‘Ali as the leader of the community – but also an “Amir” or “Prince” in a greater, spiritual sense. It also highlights the role played by the successive imams either in successful times, or (more often) in tragic circumstances.

The refrain is then interspersed by verses, two at a time. The first verse of each doublet recalls a particular incident of Karbala to the memory of the Imam ‘Ali and the second petitions his help for a parallel circumstance in the modern world.

Doublet 1: the general persecution of the Prophet’s family by Yazid and massacre at Karbala (verse 1) and the persecution of the Prophet’s spiritual family in the modern day, by proponents of injustice. (verse 2) In a certain sense, the spiritual family can be taken not only to be the Shia but all those who promote justice and righteousness.

Doublet 2: recalls the story of the Hussein holding out his baby son, Ali Asghar to his enemies to ask them for water upon which an enemy soldier named Hurmala shot a three pronged arrow into the baby’s neck, killing him (verse 1). This is paralleled with the experience of starving people in the world, especially children, who are killed by the weapons of greed and unjust handling of resources (verse 2).

Doublet 3: recalls the story of Hussein’s half brother Abbas who went with a water bag (skein) to fetch water from the Euphrates for the thirsty children. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, according to Shia martyrologies, he kept fighting and trying to reach Hussein’s camp with the water, even after his arms, etc. were chopped off.

Doublet 4: recalls the story of Qasem leaving his newly married bride to fight for her father, and praises his love and dedication to the cause of the Imam even in the face of certain death (verse 1). The subsequent verse asks the Imam to help those who fight for freedom in their countries, at the cost of personal injury to themselves and distress to their families (verse 2).

Doublet 5: recalls the martyrdom of Hussein in light of its salvific and vicarious role for the whole community. This is paralleled by those who make similar sacrifices for their community in the modern day.

Doublet 6: recalls the story of Sakinah, the daughter of Hussein, running to the place where her father’s horse-trampled body lay, and embracing it (verse 1) and parallels that with the experience of orphans in the modern world, especially those orphaned by war or as a result of injustice (verse 2).

Doublet 7:recalls the courageous defense and denunciation of Yazid by Zainab, ‘Ali’s daughter, in his court – a message credited by many with with saving Hussein’s son and the next Imam, Zain al-Abidin from death – and thus, especially for Shia Muslims who hold the Imam as integral to Islam, for saving the future of the religion. (verse 1) The verse plays on the fact that while Hussein’s head was cut off with a sword, Yazid’s was cut with Zainab’s words. The parallel verse draws on the case of women who speak up for women’s rights in the world today, thus establishing the principle of dignity found in true religion against those who may attempt to use history or claim to be acting for the good of a religion – as did Yazid – in suppressing those rights.  (verse 2)

The last doublet is purely panegyric drawing a contrast between the earthly shrine of Karbala and the shrine in the believer’s heart as well as petitioning for the aid for the believer to follow the ideals of justice that Karbala’s shrines represent.

Response 2: The music of the Quran

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cultureandbeliefproject2

The readings on the calligraphy of the Quran, the importance of recitation and how people experience it as an aural text, and the history of codification, gave me an idea. The idea was to attempt to codify the Quran but in another manner – codifying a style of recitation. My idea was to use the fluidity of the Arabic alphabet to attempt to write the text in such a way that a person with basic musical knowledge looking at it could chant the text.  My reasoning was that if such a method had been used, it could have preserved the style in which the Quran was revealed originally – and recited by the Prophet himself.

So I decided to use the usual 5 staff notation for the project.  I then divided up the paper into equal and distinct vertical parts. Each alphabet was written in one part, if it was a quarter note – otherwise it was written in two or more parts to represent half and whole notes, or in half of the distance to represent 1/8th notes. Although I was aware that reciters can use any one of several different maqam to chant the text, I elected to use a transcription that I found in a book entitled The Art of Reciting the Quran by Kristina Nelson. A scan of the original transcriptions seen in the book can be found above (Fig 1).  After several different tries,  (Fig 2-4) I came up with an acceptable final calligraphic copy which I then finally transcribed onto a  staff notation (Fig. 5 above) adding the dots and other marking in red, as they were done for the first copies of the Quran. I then asked one of my musically inclined friends familiar with the Arabic alphabet to try and sing the text. After some tries, he got it somewhat right, but it didn’t really have the same feel. In addition, my friend told me that a maqam has several notes that are not really in Western music .

Somewhat ironically, this project simply ended up confirming a recurring theme of the class, which is the importance of experiencing an oral-aural revelation in the same manner, and the impossibility (or more accurately, the inexactness) of codifying it or fixing it on paper. In the end, the written text can only be an aid to the reader, and not a substitute. Because religion is the intersection of humans with the divine, it will always have some sort of human and variable element to it, as much as one may try to preserve or reach the same exact divine message. In a certain sense, when the divine reveals itself through humans, because humans are thinking creatures and interact differently with the message, there will always be some measure of “human-ness” embodied in the transmission, representing a person’s indivudal engagement with the fixed text.

Response 1: A song in honour of the Prophet’s ascension

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Mohammad song recording

1. Take me along with you (x2)
Let me travel with you/ To the place of joy, joy (x2)

Refrain

Ya Mustafa (O Chosen One)
Ya Habibullah (O Friend of God)
Ya Nimatallah (O Favour of God)
Ya Rasullah (O Messenger of God)
Ya Mahmood, Ya Katim an-Nabeeyeen (O praiseworthy one, O Seal of the Prophets)
Inta al-Rahmtul lil alameen (You are the Mercy of God to the worlds)
Ya Mubashshir, ya Madhakkir (O bearer of good news, O Reminder)
Ya Muqaffi, Ya Muddathir (O one who followed [all the other prophets], O Cloaked one)
Ya Insan al Kamil, Ya Rajul Kareem (O Perfect Man, O Noble Man)
Inta al-Kutham, wa inta al-Hashir (You are the Generous one, and the Gatherer i.e. the one at whose feet humankind will gather on the Day of Judgment)
Ya Mushaffaun, (O you whose intercession will be granted)
Ya Shafe’e (O Intercessor)

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

2. Grasp my hand lest I fall (x2)
As we speedily fly/ along paths of joy, joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

3. Banish evils and fears(x2)
Let me peacefully journey/ with mind full of joy

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

4. Let me pray behind you (x2)
Prostrating to my Maker / with the prophets in joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

5. Let me ascend with you (x2)
On the rungs of prayer to /that meeting of joy, joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

6. Let me greet them with you  (x2)
Those who brought Covenants /and great Messages of joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

7. Tear the veils off my heart (x2)
Let me enter the chambers of joy joy joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

8. Cast aside all my cares (x2)
Let there be only One/who is my joy, joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

9. Let your Cloak cover me(x2)
Lest I be blinded at the Source of joy, joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

10. Let your voice speak for me (x2)
For my tongue fails me in the wonder of this joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

11. Light the fire in my heart (x2)
With Love’s  flame that sets yours ablaze in joy, joy (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

12. Do not tear me away (x2)
Let me stay in this moment of rapture and joy  (x2)

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

13. Count me in your people
That I might return one day to live in this joy

Ya Mustafa….. ya Shafe’e

Hear the whole world rejoice (x2)
O delight of both worlds /who revealed the path of joy (x2)

___________________________________________________________________________

I wrote the words to this song in response to the readings on the Isra wa-l Miraj.  (The tune is not original – and in addition, because I cannot sing well, I have only posted the tune with the words underneath). The song is meant to celebrate the theme of the Isra wal-Miraj which is the journey of the Prophet to a place commonly identified with the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and from thence to heaven, where he meets God, face to face.

I chose to write a song in honour of the Prophet since several of our readings focused on how he is an object of devotion expressed through songs and poems. This song has a rather festive and lively tune and is meant to celebrate the Isra-wal-Miraj particularly on 27 Rajab, when the day is celebrated in many parts of the Islamic world. The theme of the Isra al-Miraj  frames a series of praise-invocations of the Prophet, that form the devotional heart of the song.

Many of the details of the song come from either the Mevlid or the Swahili story of the Prophet. They are (1) His departure from Mecca (2) his  journey to Jerusalem (3) his victory over jinn (4) his praying with all the prophets (5) his ascent on a ladder to heaven (5) his  meeting-and-greeting with other rusul – especially Ibrahim, Musa and Isa (6) his closer approach into heaven (7) – (11) his meeting with God (12) his return to earth (13) a reference both to his pleading for his community before God, and his telling of the journey to his followers and the impact it had on them.

Although the incident does incline to the view that the miraculous night journey did take place (see stanza (2)), the language has been left deliberately ambiguous to allow for a modernist interpretation that it was simply a vision. Indeed, in viewing the incident, I chose to view it in light of its spiritual significance for an individual believer. The Isra wal Miraj is emblematic of the spiritual ascent possible for a believer, especially through ritual prayer (salat).

The  theme of the song is that unity with God’s presence, or at least the sight of him, is the goal of the soul, and one that leads to happiness and joy. The believer is like a lover who longs for the vision of God. As the only one admitted into God’s presence, the Prophet Mohammad serves as an exemplar and means of access, to attain this goal.  Thus the song rhythmically repeats several different names for him, invoking his various roles and attributes, as a means of showing love for him, and thus for his role (both in relation to God, and in relation to the believer) and ultimately for the One whose Messenger he claims to be.  The litany of names includes several attributes which can be realized through the episode of the Isra-wal-Miraj.  Only the “Perfect Man” is able to have such close contact with God. By means of this contact, he has a significant role to play especially as an intercessor.

Thus the believer uses the Miraj of the prophet as a means of reaching God, especially through prayer. The second verse implies that the believer is flying along at great speed on the buraq and the Prophet’s attention is necessary to sustain him – a scenario that can be very easily transferred to the believer’s journey to God in mental prayer. Likewise, the plea for protection from evil (stanza 3) can be understood as chasing away not only evil, but any temptation that would distract the praying believer from his objective.  Indeed, as stanza 5 shows, the believer realizes that it is prayer that leads up to God, and along with prayer, a necessary component is belief in God and his Messengers, with whom he wishes to converse (stanza 6).

Having ascended through prayer, the next step for the believer is to seek a closer union with God but relinquishing worldy things, that this forms the basis of the petitions in verses 7-8.  The believer in fact realizes that his monotheism is imperfect, and the only way into heaven is to relinquish ALL things that could compete with God – in short, anything and everything – and thus attain union with God but confessing the absolute and uncompromising Monotheism of Mohammad , a monotheism taken not only in its superficial sense, but to a very real and deep extent but divesting oneself of all other things.

Having reached this stage, however, the believer falters, realizes his inadequacy and so begs the Prophet, the Perfect Man, for his intercession and protection, which is evoked in the image of the cloak. The idea of the Cloak can also convey, for Shia Muslims, the idea of the importance of the Imams from the Prophet’s family in reaching God – the reference being to descend of the Ahl- al –Kisa (Mohammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussein) from the Sura of the Cloak.

After asking the Prophet to intercede for him, and then pleading for the ability to emulate the Prophet’s pure love for God, which is the source of the Prophet’s radiance and power, the soul realizes that it has to leave and go back to earth, and so pleads to stay. The “moment” mentioned here is a reference to the idea that Mohammad found that he had been barely gone any time when he returned to earth –  the many hours were almost only a few minutes, according to some traditions. But the idea of the “moment” equally applies to the idea that most people are not favoured with lengthy visions of the Divine but brief glimpses, after which, having experienced it, they are completely transformed – even though the experience itself might be transitory. Even if the experience is non-transitory, the song speaks  of the reality that one must return to a sort-of lesser realm after having had this mystical experience.

The last verse refers to the idea of Mohammad as a special intercessor for his community, for whom he spoke before God  at the Miraj. The idea was to capture the “necessity” of the message of Mohammad – a necessity that is manifested through acceptance of the Prophet. Indeed, the believer summarizes the whole song in the last verse because he/she realizes that divine revelation has come from a source beyond ordinary human comprehension – and the intermediary figure of the Prophet is necessary to understand the message that is the key to union with God and his/her lasting joy.

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