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Turkey — keeping an eye out for Gülen

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a substantial side-current in the coup attempt draws attention to Gülen, who presently lives in the Poconos and is heavily involved in US charter schools ]
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I don’t have anything fresh to say about the situation in Turkey beyond what others can say, but my interest in religious movements has long focused my attention on Fethullah Gülen.

Like his rough contemporary Harun Yahya aka Adnan Oktar — celebrated for his Islamic creationism — Gülen was a student of the late Said Nursi. He is reported to have been influenced by the works of Rumi, Ibn Arabi, and other sufis. Gülen has strengthened one sphere of his considerable influence by encouraging academics to write about him, and I’m not sure as to how much of what has been written as a result is the flattery of courtiers, and how much reliable scholarship — but for what it’s worth, Heon Kim‘s Gülen’s Dialogic Sufism: A Constructional and Constructive Factor of Dialogue, published in the then-Gülenist newspaper, Zaman, discusses both Gülen’ssufism and his interest in interfaith dialogue.

He’s certainly an interesting fellow to watch.

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From Twitter:

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Aha!

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Go figure.

The Champ: knockouts, protests, sufism and the man

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Muhammad Ali ]
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The knockout:

Obviously, the champ was a knockout — and this photo is almost certainly the loveliest photo of a sporting event I have ever seen — victory and defeat in perfect symmetry:

Ali mandala of victory
Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images via The Guardian

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The protestor

quote-there-is-one-hell-of-a-difference-between-fighting-in-the-ring-and-going-to-war-in-vietnam-muhammad-ali

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The sufi:

How did your dad come to embrace Sufi Islam, and what attracts him to it?

My father has a collection of books by a man named Hazrat Inayat Khan. They’re Sufi teachings. He read them front to cover. They’re old and yellow and the pages are torn. They’re amazing. He always says they’re the best books in the world.

My father is very spiritual — more spiritual now than he is religious. It was important for him to be very religious and take the stands he did in earlier years. It was a different time. He still tries to convert people to Islam, but it’s not the same. His health and his spirituality have changed, and it’s not so much about being religious, but about going out and making people happy, doing charity, and supporting people and causes.

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The man:

How Ali wld like to be remembered

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May he cross the bridge and attain the lake.

The reversal of Maugham’s Samarra

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — how British and American literature, a Talmudic tale and a Sufi teaching story conspire — twice — to illuminate current events in Iraq and Syria ]
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Let’s start with Somerset Maugham‘s telling of the Appointment in Samarra, which John O’Hara borrowed as the epigraph of his novel by that name:

The speaker is Death

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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Here’s the version of the same story found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 53a:

R. Yohanan stated: A man’s feet are his guarantors? they lead him to the place where he is wanted. There were once two Cushites who attended on Solomon, and these were Elihoreph and Ahyah, the sons of Shisha, scribes, of Solomon (I Kings 4:3). One day Solomon observed that the Angel of Death was distressed. He asked him: Why are you distressed? He responded: They have demanded from me the two Cushites who sit here. [Solomon] gave them over to the demons and sent them to the district of Luz. When they reached the district of Luz they died. On the following day he observed that the Angel of Death was smiling He said to him: Why are you smiling? He responded: To the place where they expected them from me, there did you send them!’ Solomon immediately began to say: A man’s feet are his guarantors? they lead him to the place where he is wanted.

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In February 2014 in the US Jewish magazine Forward, writer JJ Goldberg made fine use of this tale, applying it to a then-contemporary news event in his piece, Lesson of the Talmud in an Iraq School Suicide Bombing:

School massacres have become so commonplace that they scarcely shock us anymore. And yet, occasionally mayhem invades the sanctity of the classroom in a way that can still puncture our complacency. At these moments we’re reminded how fragile is this thing we call civilization. Such was the case February 10 in a rural schoolroom outside Samarra in north-central Iraq, where a terrorism instructor teaching a class in suicide bombing accidentally detonated a live explosive belt. Twenty-one students died along with their teacher. It happened in a training camp run by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Sunni terrorist group that was recently expelled from Al Qaeda for, of all things, its excessively brutal extremism in the Syrian civil war. [ .. ]

The location of the suicide school in Samarra has layers of poetic resonance, probably unintended by ISIS. Though predominantly Sunni, the city is revered by Shi’ites as the place where the last caliphs are buried and the Mahdi disappeared. Its name resonates in medieval Islamic lore with mysteries of suicide and predestined death, echoed in modern Anglo-American literature and linked to Talmudic legend.

After discussing the Talmudic and Maugham versions, Goldberg concludes:

Thus, the lesson of Samarra. In Arabic lore, we’re drawn helpless to our predestined deaths. In the Talmud, it’s kings who dispatch us with the best intentions to what they assume will be a cakewalk, but it’s we — or, per the Talmud, the king’s black soldiers — who do the dying.

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The Afghan Sufi writer Idries Shah tells the story in his brilliant little book Tales of the Dervishes, under the title When Death Came to Baghdad:

The disciple of a Sufi of Baghdad was sitting in the corner of an inn one day when he heard two figures talking. From what they said he realized that one of them was the Angel of Death.

“I have several calls to make in this city during the next three weeks,” the Angel was saying to his companion.

Terrified, the disciple concealed himself until the two had left. Then applying his intelligence to the problem of how to cheat a possible call from death, he decided that if he kept away from Baghdad he should not be touched. From this reasoning it was but a short step to hiring the fastest horse available and spurring it night and day towards the distant town of Samarkand.

Meanwhile Death met the Sufi teacher and they talked about various people. “And where is your disciple so-and-so?” asked Death.

“He should be somewhere in this city, spending his time in contemplation, perhaps in a caravanserai,” said the teacher.

“Surprising,” said the Angel; “because he is on my list. Yes, here it is: I have to collect him in four weeks’ time at Samarkand, of all places.”

Shah attributes his telling thus:

This treatment of the Story of Death is taken from Hikayat-iNaqshia (Tales formed according to a design’).

The author of this story, which is a very favourite folklore story in the Middle East, was the great Sufi Fudail ibn Ayad, a former highwayman, who died in the early part of the ninth century.

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All of which brings me to this Kurdish news story published yesterday, ISIS captive begs Peshmerga to kill him for 4 o’clock appointment

DUHOK, Kurdistan Region — An Islamic State (ISIS) militant caught in fighting near Mosul last week begged his Peshmerga captors to shoot him dead on the spot so he could reach paradise the same day, a frontline Kurdish soldier said.

“The militant’s own suicide vest had failed to explode but he had sustained injuries from his friends’ vest explosions,” Peshmerga Captain Salim Surchi of the Spilk base told Rudaw. “He kept saying, ‘kill me, you infidels kill me.’” Cpt. Surchi said the militant was captured by the Peshmerga during last week’s fighting in the Christian town of Tel Skof, 28km north of Mosul. The militant was eager to be killed on the spot because it was a holy Islamic day known as Isra an Mi’raj, the day that marks Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven as mentioned in the Koran. [ .. ]

Cpt. Surchi lost three of his close friends that day and had others wounded, he said, but he still rushed to help a wounded ISIS militant to save his life. “I was filming the dead ISIS with my cell phone when I saw one of them moving his leg and I placed my hands on his chest trying to help him breathe,” the Peshmerga commander said of the moment following the fighting. “He breathed heavily a few times, he was conscious and he could even speak,” he added. Cpt. Surchi said that despite the militant’s pleas to be shot dead, he went ahead and treated his leg wound.

“When I was treating him I asked, ‘where’re you from?’ and he said, ‘I’m from Samarra and came here for jihad.’ The militant then said, ‘We were 50 suicide bombers altogether and we wanted to be in paradise by 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” Cpt. Surchi recounted. [ .. ]

“The wounded one kept asking us to kill him till the end of the day.”

Which in turn brings us full circle. In Maugham’s telling, our traveller makes his way to Samarra to avoid death, who finds him there. In yesterday’s version, the jihadist leaves Samarra to meet his death, who refuses, on the night of all nights, to oblige him.

Polishing the heart: full circle

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — happy daze! from Joan Halifax via Henry Corbin to Hui Neng & David Remnick ]
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From Roshi Joan Halifax:

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Steven Nouriani, The Meeting of Two Rivers, in Copenhagen 2013 – 100 Years On:

As Corbin (1969) indicated, the heart is thought to be like a mirror in which every moment the various manifestations of the Divine Forms can be reflected on a microcosmic level. The more we polish the heart, the more we develop the Himma (aptitude) to experience Divine epiphanies out of Mundus Imaginalis.

Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, p 222.

In its unveiled state, the heart of the gnostic is like a mirror in which the microcosm from of the Divine Being is reflected

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Sachiko Murata, Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, p. 225, n. 8:

The Sufi path is rather to empty oneself of all causes, to “polish the heart” by cleansing it of the rust of things, and to find God’s light in the heart.

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Luang Pu Thuat, quoted in Dharma Legacy of Ajaan Dune Atulo:

To make yourself a good-looking wandering monk isn’t proper at all. It goes against the purpose of going out to wander. Each of you should reflect a great deal on this. The purpose of wandering in meditation is only one thing: to train and polish the heart so that it’s free of defilements. To go wandering in meditation only in body, but without taking along the heart, is nothing excellent at all.

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Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido:

The only cure for materialism is the cleansing of the six senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind). If the senses are clogged, one’s perception is stifled. The more it is stifled, the more contaminated the senses become. This creates disorder in the world, and that is the greatest evil of all. Polish the heart, free the six senses and let them function without obstruction, and your entire body and soul will glow.

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Shen-hsiu, in The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng, Red Pine, tr.:

The venerable Shen-hsiu held up a lantern and wrote his gatha on the middle of the south corridor wall at midnight, and no one saw him. His gatha went:

The body is a bodhi tree
the mind is like a standing mirror
always try to keep it clean
don’t let it gather dust.

to which Hui Neng‘s responds, from the same source:

Unless you know your own mind, studying the Dharma is useless. But once you know your mind and see your nature, you understand what is truly important. My gatha went:

Bodhi doesn’t have any trees
this mirror doesn’t have a stand
our buddha nature is forever pure
where do you get this dust?

Then I composed another one:

The mind is the bodhi tree
the body is the mirror’s stand
the mirror itself is so clean
dust has no place to land.

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BBC, Valentine’s Day: Countries that don’t love February romance

Last year, there were clashes at a university in Peshawar over Valentine’s Day.
Liberal students were celebrating with red balloons and cake while another group felt such a show was un-Islamic.
Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire.

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David Remnick, Dangerous Liaisons:

Love is wonderful; Valentine’s Day, less so. Often, it’s cheesy and boring. Here’s your antidote: a collection of stories about dangerous love, doomed love, and other forms of bad romance. … Consider these pieces a Valentine from us.

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Veneration of relics:

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Relics of St. Valentine, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP

King Abdullah II of Jordan at the UN

Monday, September 28th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — and the thought of Rabia of Basra ]
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SPEC abdullah ii and rabia

In a variant on these words, which I’ve quoted here from Asra Nomani‘s Milestones for a Spiritual Jihad, Rabia also wrote this poem, translated here by Charles Upton:

O my Lord,

if I worship you
from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.


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