Between the Mullahs and Mystics

Reflection on Farida Mahwash and the Kabul Ensemble’s performance in The Sound of the Soul (Week 12)

The tension present in Islam between the mullahs and mystics over the root of knowledge, the rightful owner of this knowledge, and the notion of correct worship of God are particularly interesting because it illuminates a potential tension that could be present within one’s own person. The notion that poetry, especially poetry set to music, has the ability to transcend the material and the seven different layers of meaning believed to be inherent in every Quranic verse adds an interesting dimension to this debate. At the heart of this understanding is the notion that the spiritual, that which is genuinely real, and that the metaphors of the poems, can lead you to that root of truth.

In The Sound of the Soul, Farida Mahwash sheds light on this debate, stating that, “Through the mystical poems of Jalaluddin Rumi, Bidel, and others, I experience a direct connection with God, and the music helps me stay in this state of prayer.” The scholar is no longer necessary as an intermediary and one has direct access to the divine. According to Mahwash, the ignorance of the mullahs concerning the role of music and their insistence upon a particular mode of prayer over others is the root cause of suffering for many.

Mahwash’s reflections and songs allude to a primordial knowledge about what life was life for creation to be united with the Source of life prior to its scattering. The longing for unity is great and is not limited to the relationship between the human and the divine. She believes that when she sings, she and the audience become “one soul, because [they] have the same feeling.” The power of the music and the words is such that it enables them to, at least momentarily, transcend those rigid boundaries of self and other, and to dwell in perfect harmony.

The imagery that accompanies this dialogue is also very interesting. In the same film, one Sufi practitioner explained this helpful visual aid:

God cannot be known through the mind only. The mind is a horse that brings you to the Sultan’s palace, the door, but does not enter with you in it. So the mind can lead you to that level of knowing the existence of God, but to communicate with God and know the essence of God, that’s a different dimension.

I find this passage resonates withorseh me and I’m reminded of the
conceptal battle I’ve sometimes had when trying to get the rational and spiritual dimensions of my own orientation toward the Transcendental to align, and the lack of success I’ve had in this area. I’m intrigued, in particular, by the last thought, in that communication with God is not accomplished through the rational, though the rational can get you to the point of potential contact, but through “a different dimension.” I’m curious about the different dimension of the person and the ways that people seek to, whether successfully or unsuccessfully, harmonize the elements of the mullahs and the mystics within one’s own experiences. I wonder how many fewer people would settle on a strictly rational perspective if one was able to diverge from this impulses to harmonize our experiences into a coherent narrative.



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