We are the Ahl al-Kitāb [1]
We are the orphaned wanderers
The soles of our feet now sticky
With the imprint of lands sweet like poisoned honey
We sip from their rivers flowing with milk
But are thirsty
for the thirst we felt in our own deserts
Hungry
for the hunger we felt in our own mountains
The seas that we cross
Have not been parted for us
and are not Red
The only Red we see
Is the mark of the sajda [2]
On our foreheads like a Sindoor [3]
We turn our faces to the East
“Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh [4]
Where is God, my brother?”
We turn our faces to the West
“Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh
Where is God, my sister?”

 

Where is God not? the Dervish [5] from Kabul answers
Do you not see the Ayat [6] that He has left for you
Written on your palms
In the curve of your lover’s lips
On the skeletons of leaves as you watch them burn
How could you?
When you close your eyes,
As you turn your face to the East and West.
When you cover your Saaghar [7] with your hand,
Frightened that it will overflow with wine.
If you want to find God’s house,
Do not come knocking at Mecca’s gates.
If you want to learn to love God,
Do not look to the Men of Letters who collect books
Look to the wandering Majnun [8] instead
And taste what God has poured in his cup
That intoxicates the sober and drunk alike

 

I smile and reply I am no Dervish,
But I am a weary wanderer too,
The red-hot memory of my own motherland rubbing clean
from the soles of my shoes
As they collect grime and grub
From the Pardes [9] I walk through
And on this journey
I have found no home
But the home in Him
So place a tombstone made of camel hair upon my head, Brother
Wrap me in your own white shroud
And ask My Prophet to take back his black Burda [10]
So that I may return to where I belong
Because when all was lost
And everyone left,
And it was time to turn off the lights
In my heart there was a niche,
And in that niche there was a lamp,
And in that lamp was God’s light
And within me, I found that which I had sought all along

 

Now when I turn my face to the East,
and I turn my face to the West,
I find that I have turned my face to God
Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh
Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh
Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

Week 2: The Qur’ān, God’s Word as Sacred Design, and the Art of Calligraphy

Having perused through the many calligrams and scholarly texts offered during Week 2, I have become aware of the fact that devotion to God does not merely mean turning your face to the East and West in prayer. Instead, Muslims worship God and celebrate his Prophet on a daily basis through various art forms such as poetry, music, and art. These different forms of expression lead to many different interpretations of Islam and it therefore can be difficult to celebrate these differences while still acknowledging the tawhid, or oneness of the Muslim community. Professor Asani introduces a commonly shared ideal in Chapter 2 of his Infidel of Love that expresses the importance of “Selfless love for God.” I attempted to express this important ideal in the form of a poem, by drawing on “heretical” imagery and language commonly used by important poets of the past and from excerpts of poems Professor Asani included in his own creative analysis. I also mixed English with words borrowed from the Hindi, Arabic and Dari/Farsi languages to reflect the tawhid of the Muslim community despite their differences.

The poem starts with “We are the Ahl al-Kitab” (people of the Book) to remind the reader of the family that they are a part of. The second line stands in stark contrast to this solidarity and sense of belonging. We are also isolated in our journeys to the extent that we are like orphans without a home. This journey is both a spiritual and physical one. It specifically refers to the experience of being a refugee and immigrant, longing for the familiarity and safety of your home-country, while also being a wandering mystic seeking for Truth and longing to be reunited with God. The poem draws clear inspiration from commonly used symbols in the Abrahamic traditions such as the image of a land flowing with milk and honey and the parting of the Red Sea, while even drawing direct quotations from the Quran like the Surah an-Noor. The poem expresses the idea that there is more than one way to find God, and that to be one with God, one must lose themselves, be “intoxicated” with his love so to speak. The poem ends with the poet accepting the Sufi tradition that to know God, you must sacrifice your ego-centric tendencies and allow yourself to be annahilated (fana fillah) so that you can dissolve into love and experience God. This acceptance of fana relieves the tension created earlier when the phrase “Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh” is said twice, instead of the customary three times at the end of salat (prayer). The poem resolves itself by stating the phrase three times, symbolizing the completion of his life’s devotion and reunion with God.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

[1] Ahl al-Kitab. Arabic for “people of the book” and refers to those who follow monotheistic religions based on divine revelations written in holy books that were transmitted to people by God’s messengers, some examples of ahl al-kitab including Jews and Christians.
[2] Sajda. Arabic word meaning “prostration to God” by pressing your forehead to the ground.
[3] Sindoor. Red pigment applied as a dot to the forehead or in the parting of the hair of a married Hindu woman.
[4] Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh. Arabic phrase meaning “May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you.” This is commonly said as you turn your head to the East and the West a total of three times after a prayer to signify you wishing your neighbor peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah.
[5] A Dervish is a member of a Muslim Sufi religious order who has taken vows of austerity and participates in devotional exercises.
[6] Ayat. Arabic for “evidence” or “sign.” Also refers to phrases in the Quran.
[7] Saaghar. Dari for a cup with a stem and flat base, used commonly for drinking wine.
[8] Majnun. Arabic meaning “mad man.” Refers to the famous love story between Qays and Layla, Qays becoming so mad with love for Layla that people forget his real name and call him the mad man.
[9] Pardes. Pardes is Hindi word made of par (other) and des (country). It therefore means “foreign country.”
[10] Burda. Arabic for “cloak.” It refers to a poem written by Kab ibn Zuhayr who at first was a rival to the Prophet, and to seek forgiveness offered a beautiful poem to the Prophet. The Prophet was so moved by this poem, that he took off his cloak and placed it on the shoulders of to the poet.