Purpose

While doing a quick round up of the eminent theorists from some major schools of thought in Psychology, Dr. X told me why he thought Viktor E. Frankl’s psychoanalytical system left a “working” space for religion, not just a symbolic, sympathetic one, as you might find with his more popular counterpart, Carl Jung, and his brethren. I was familiar with the growing fascination among boys over Frankl but wasn’t able to read him before. Dr. X’s eloquent synopsis was something that came in handy.

He said that Frankl’s system was unique in a way that it would begin to treat a patient by stressing him more instead of trying to relieve him of it. And it worked as miraculously as the tenth century Chinese inoculation where they injected the patient with the same virus they wanted to protect him from to immunize him from future viral attacks of the sort. However, the way in which Viktor E. Frankl stressed his patients was surprising. His psychotherapeutic method began with insisting the patient to find a meaning in life, hence his best-seller book, Man’s Search For Meaning (Have you read this book yet? Please do. It’s enlightening!).

That brings me to my topic. At some point in our lives, we all wonder if there is any purpose to this meticulously elaborate drama of life. We ask ourselves, for example, where do we fit in the grand scheme of universe? What does it mean if we lie on top of major ecological chains as ultimate beneficiaries of all that universe has to offer – why exactly does this universe seem to be at our service? These questions have substance and they demand answers just as substantial. Everything that matters hangs delicately on these questions.

We, as human beings, have an innate tendency to find our answers – to know the reason of our creation, to shake sense of all that is out there in relation to our own self and its connection with the universe. We are sometimes referred to by the evolutionary scientists as the only intelligent design that inhabits the universe. Of several hundred million different species of Earth and counting, it’s really flattering to know this but it has its downside: we can’t just wake up in the morning and leave to make a living unless we have figured out what is it that we want to live for. Even a jackass is smarter than us in that it just grazes away when it has to and doesn’t really need to grapple with this conundrum.

During my discussions with people, i have discovered that the very term “purpose” induces great anxiety in most of them and they don’t want to pursue the discussion any further. While they might have their own reasons to do that, the reason I’ve been frankly cited at times is that purpose, in its own cold, calculative and mechanistic manner, tends to kill freedom. And its totally understandable. If you wake up in the dead of the night hungry as a wolf and aim for the fridge with a clear purpose in your head to eat something, you definitely won’t be much amused with a Santa Claus, should you find one, standing in his chariot blocking your way. In fact, you might as well walk right through him! That’s the case with purposes. They block a significant number of exciting possibilities from entering your life. But then, you have to ask yourself what’s more important after all? Finding your destiny or living ‘one hell of a life.’

The decision, ultimately, rests with you.

Void

When God created us, he left an aching void in us that could only be filled up by His love. Therefore, mankind embarked on a painstaking journey to find Him back and since nobody had actually seen God or knew what He looked like, the only tool they had to identify Him was the love-void inside of them: whatever filled that void up was to be the God!

As long as His Beauty transcended the reach of their senses, they kept searching for it until they caught a reflection of it somewhere. Every time that happened, the caravan would halt there, closely inspect the thing that’s apparently exuding the Light of God, term it as mere illusion, discard it (or carry it as a relic) and move on. The ancient journey stretches to and continues up until our time.

Our unconscious mind is a mysterious, intricate web of memories, lived and default. The Promise of Alast عہدِاَلَست is one such default memory that’s not actually lived by our bodies (although our souls were made witness to it in The World of Souls i.e. عالمِ اَرواح), is weak and hazy and lacks objective details like all other memories – but amazingly, it has a surprising capacity to override much stronger memories in order to storm our conscious mind to remind us that we have a Beloved to seek. The dormant yearning, thus catches fire. The torture it brings is familiar to us all.

Our love-void is like a massive black hole consistently drawing us into anything that resembles God in the least. It could be anything from purity to strength to character to beauty because God alone is the origin of all likable attributes. Even if we encounter a single one of these traits, in the least of degrees, in somebody or something, we might feel immensely attracted to them because of our predisposition to fill up the void in ourselves, and start loving them. We can love them for as long as they stay true to our idea of God. Obviously, none but God fulfills this promise. So there come disappointments and the love eventually fades away with time as we start again to seek His Beauty until we find someone else. Only this time round, we make sure they last longer in the face of our godly ideal.

People ask if the journey ends somewhere. No, it doesn’t. They’ll keep asking for more. At least, that’s the case with the perfect lover and the perfect Beloved: no one can love Allah more than Muhammad (S.A.W.) did, yet in His last days He used to say, “Forgive me, God, I couldn’t know Thee as I should have.” You see, he yearned for even more of His love.

Don’t you hate your Nafs ever. It’s something that eventually gets you to your destination. What happens when you place an obstacle in a fast moving river. The water initially stops, gathers around the obstacle and its level begins to rise. The river gains greater strength near the obstacle until it either breaks it apart or sweeps it along. Same goes for Nafs. While attempting to resist our pursuit of Beauty by engaging us in distractions, it only manages to be an obstacle in the course of the free river of Love flowing inside of us. Every time that happens, our river stops for a while, we feel that we are missing something important though we might not know exactly what it is and we may even fall into depression. But ultimately we break away the obstacle and come out stronger and nearer to God in the journey of love. That’s how it goes. Had there been no obstacle, there would have been no progress either, see?

Last and the most important question: How can you gain His love in this world? There’s a mystic saying about it: there are as many paths to God as there are human souls on earth. However, there are some baby steps that we can take. Read about the people who actually gained His love. Drop your guard for your inner sense of Beauty in order to let it guide you freely. But above and beyond everything else, read Allah. He, of all the beings, knows how do we get to Him and He has made no secret of the Path. The opening chapter of Quran, Surah Fatiha, consists solely of the supplication that addresses this fundamental need of ours: اھدنا الصراط المستقیم i.e. Guide us to the right Path and it seems like, as Dr. Israr says, the whole of Quran that follows, is a divine response to this supplication.

So it’s definitely well worth a read. But what happens when you first open it? I’ll hopefully write on this later and I’m quite positive you’ll be able to relate!

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P.S. This was originally written in response to a host of questions posed by an old fellow who grew up mainly in a liberal atmosphere but felt a growing void and a yearning for the divine inside of her. I just wanted to connect the two using Iqbal, Dr. Israr and Dr. Rafiuddin. Another thing that i had in my mind while writing this, was a casual discussion with a fellow blogger. Please feel free to comment, add, discuss or correct!

Mother God

Though God is an ethereal spirit with no sexual connotations to its gender, the debate over His “actual” gender has passionately raged in the recent decades particularly in the wake of the rise of radical feminism in reaction to the timeless patriarchy that had reigned supreme. The reason i am writing this is that this debate is not distant, irrelevant or academic, it rather dictates how we perceive God in our day to day lives, defines our faith and how we act under its influence.

The most prevailing understanding of the gender of God is that God is predominantly a powerful masculine figure. This understanding possibly originated and strengthened over centuries in attempts to explain the attributes of God being Strong (Qawi), Subduer (Qahhar), Avenger (Muntaqim) and Compeller (Jabbar). Though there are other equally important attributes like Jamal (Beauty) that are the prototype of femininity but since these scholarly attempts were made in patriarchal societies so it is not very surprising for male-chauvinistic interpretations to have made their way into the sacred religious texts passed on to later generations. This partially explains why today, we refer to, and more importantly understand, God as a watchful man-guard over the universe though theological descriptions leave sufficient room for alternative explanations.

The question remains: Is God REALLY a watchful man-guard or is He more of a compassionate mother – the love of whom envelops the universe?

Islam has a distinctive edge over other religions of the world in that its Holy Book i.e. Quran has survived literally intact for centuries under conflicting and sometimes, even battling Muslim governments after the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). Karen Armstrong brings to our notice a commonly recited but strikingly overlooked piece from Quran i.e. the very Bism-illah-irrahman-irrahim.

…Nor was God distinctively male. Each recitation began with the invocation: “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate (al-Rahman) and the Merciful (al-Rahim). Allah was a masculine noun, but the divine names al-Rahman and al-Rahim are not only grammatically feminine but related etymologically to the word for womb(!)

It must be a shocking revelation for anybody who recites Quran on a regular basis. In the very tasmiah, God uses one masculine and two feminine names for Him(?)self, which although does not prove that God is predominantly feminine, in the very least points to the fact that God doesn’t want this side of Him(?) to be taken any lightly.

I was scrolling down a forum when i found this gem posted by MariaS.

Some people may say when huwa means “he” and “it” and hiya means “she” and “it” then why is God using huwa if hiya and huwa both mean “it” as Allah says : Qul huwAllahu ahad [Say he is One and Alone]? Answer: In A’rabic grammar, there are certain rules and criteria for feminine gender: 1) If it is feminine in nature like ummun [mother], ukhtun [sister]. 2) If the word ends with an A’rabic word ‘ta‘ like mirwaahatun [fan]. 3) If the word ends ‘badha Alif‘- an A’rabic letter. 4) Pairs of the body like yadun [hands], a’inun [eyes]. As the above criteria are not getting satisfied, by default Allah uses huwa-it.

I am not concluding this piece because i understand that people have different opinions. I do not intend to “establish” anything here neither do i feel the need of doing it nor do i find myself qualified for that. It’s just that i am going through a spiritual crisis where invoking God is, as i see it, the only way out and invoking a mother God feels much easier and more natural. Besides, I feel it’s really important for us to see God in the universe. The watchful man-guard is hard to see, the compassionate mother is hard not to.

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P.S. In case this article interests you, there are some links that i would like you to check out.

Islam and the Divine Feminine

God’s Feminine Side Is Plain to See (slightly offensive but makes the point anyway)

Shekhina: The Feminine Aspect of God

Also, in case you are into literature, Paulo Coelho, in his book “By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept”, makes an overwhelmingly beautiful case for the feminine God.

Mysticism and Contemporary Mainstream Islam

One of the prominent teachings of Islamic mysticism is that everyone is entitled to their own personal quest for God. An enticing implication of this idea is that one has infinite freedom in making choice of The Path, and nonconformity is not just welcome but highly looked upon, which perhaps is why Islamic mysticism caught on right from its early years. Delivering a serious blow to the contemporary monolithic understanding of religion of the time, it made greater space for spirituality which had almost died when religion began to be commonly equated with the do’s and don’ts of Shari’ah.

The general acceptance of un-orthodoxy slowly altered the way people understood vice and virtue. Being socially deviant did no longer equate with being a sinner. With that came a greater appreciation for all the ways in which people pursued their Creator and lesser scrutiny of how they dressed, behaved and looked. Uniformity was no longer called for. The complex cultural milieu that took birth was rather celebrated. In fact the whole enterprise of judging people from their Zahir (outlook) came crashing down.
Logically so, the Eeman acquired the status of a variable that could not be, or rather, needed not be, physically measured in inches (i.e. how high one’s pants from one’s ankles were, how long one’s beard was etc.) and returned to its original definition of piety.

However, today, more than we want to acknowledge, binary logic runs in the veins of contemporary Dar-ul-Uloom thought, which is sadly the sole representative of religion, rivaled by none. Since the beginning of time, binary logic is known to have made distinctions and bifurcations between different schools of thought instead of bringing about a unification which is the obvious need of time. The result is a highly confused and debated upon system of mainstream Islam. If ever humanity could take a break from that, it was in the period of mystics who made fundamental reformation in the way people saw the religion and taught them its real essence i.e. love, which threads the universe, connecting and molding every fragmented reality into The One.

Rumi makes exactly the same point when he states in his Masnawi Al Maanawi with an authority only he is entitled to:

I have lifted the marrow from the Quran and have left the empty bones for the dogs to quarrel upon.

By bones, he meant endless, trivial debates on Ilm-ul-Kalam that scholars of the time engaged in, leaving out the matters of consequence that demanded greater and immediate attention i.e. spiritual well-being, referred to as “marrow” here. More or less the same thing was said by Jesus as quoted in Matthew [23:23,24].

You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

P.S.: I’d like to expand on this post. Ideas, questions and critiques are welcome.

I am a Fikri now!

Now when Ramadhan has taken a back seat to just about everything else and the old, disenchanted life slowly settles upon the days, shackling people into blitzy routines so they can once again get back to being the same, ever-complaining slaves to time and world, i look back in retrospect to find what impact the blessed days have made on my life.

Daura Tarjumah Quran wasn’t something new to me but this Ramadhan’s was a no match. I was staying back in university for summer semester when i heard about Abbasi shb’s daura. Lemme tell you here that i’m the type of guy who rarely expects good out of things. Call it pessismism but that really helps; at least you’re never let down. But when i learnt the man was known to have been conducting the same program for the last NINETEEN years, i couldn’t help anticipating the wildest (if that’s the right word to say) things there. The daura was expected to draw in fikris from all corners of Pindi/Islamabad. As i was contemplating the distance (19km on the busiest roads of Islamabad) vs worth issues, i was appointed Naqeeb over the rest to ensure their timely arrivals. So, it wasn’t a choice anymore. Soon I found myself scrambling to find a balance between being utterly indifferent, overly demanding and any possible combination of the two towards my Ma’mooreen. You can either be strict and get things done or be good, sit back and get nowhere. That’s a precarious balance. I am no rope-walker but i must say, i did try to walk that fine line. It might not have made me a good Ameer but i’m sure it did turn me into a better Ma’moor.

Anyway, the nights were more enthralling than i could imagine. Abbasi shb, like always, was amazing. The first time i saw him in those round-lensed spectacles and that off-white hat, i remember thinking, “Jeez, he looks a lot older!” But when i sat down i found he sounded a lot wiser as well. Or maybe that was the first time his wisdom was actually trickling down into my chicken-sized brain unlike his usual fikri lectures which make me feel like knocking my head and asking if  that’s really home to some wrinkly, redneck Mr. Brain. After all, fikr was never my strongest point. So i was saying, when he addresses the general public, he is very kind, polite and easier to understand. I found him opening things up, instead of bringing them to a close with a usual satirical remark which would later turn into a shared joke among his keen disciples who liked to talk about world politics, social injustice, secret cults and political Islam.

Realizing that it was a one-off for me, I vowed not to sleep even if that means having to dream with open eyes, drinking gallons of water and taking consequent leaks and avoiding catch-up gossips under the cool night sky. The month-long ordeal paid off AlhumdulIllah. You see, I am a fikri now!

A Weekend Out Of My Little Universe

It’s not just everyday that you get to spend your weekend in so much peace away from the babbling about the upcoming assignments and the looming OHTs or the nerds ranting how smart they were to not fall for the glitch in the last quiz in spite of all the odds stacked against them, and the Gilgiti roommates just down my corridor who would never let go of those same gut-churning traditional tunes that have been flying about the corridors of the hostel for the last two years; perhaps they feel good pretending to be the last surviving comrades of an almost extinct civilization.

The workshop was held in Quba Mosque, Humak Town. As soon as you step in the mosque, you enter some sort of parallel universe which defies all the theories of this physical world. Time seems to have slowed down. Some branches of a tree in the yard creep up to the old-fashioned window-sills and you can see the setting sun through the rusty grills that weave through it (and that makes me nostalgic for some reason). That window perhaps serves as a calendar and a clock because neither of the two did i find in there. The leaves can tell the season and sun, the hour and that is actually more precise of a time than the people there will ever need to know. Time goes by as slowly as does the sun and the concept of quantification of time fades away as does the tick-ticking of the clock. And so in a little niche of the modern world, time still exists as an infinite entity. The building seems to hold a peculiar medieval academic air, which almost magically vivifies the scholar in oneself emanating a yearning for knowledge. There was so much tranquility all over the place and on the faces of Mudarrisoon that i have never wanted more to quit everything else in the world for that.