Sufism

The Danger in Associating with Kings

From illustrated copy of Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār’s Manṭiq al-ṭayr. This miniature

From the illustrated copy of Farīd al-Dīn ‘Attār’s Mantiq al-tayr. This miniature “shows a king, who has summoned all and sundry to admire his new palace, receiving a sharp admonition from an unimpressed ascetic. Despite its flawless appearance, there is an invisible fissure in one wall through which ‘Azrā’īl, the Angel of Death, will one day enter to collect the king’s soul” (Source).

I know it’s been about 4 months since I’ve posted something on my blog, but I’m hoping to add some new content soon, insha’Allah! Not too long ago, a friend shared a chapter from Jalaluddin Rumi’s Fihi Ma Fihi with me and I came across this excerpt that I thought was worth sharing. Although written in the 13th century, it is difficult to overlook the political and spiritual relevance it carries today, especially about the influence of those in power, the danger of such alliances, and the way structural oppression operates.

The excerpt is below:

“The danger in associating with kings is not that you may lose your life, for in the end you must lose it sooner or later. The danger lies in the fact that when these ‘kings’ and their carnal souls gain strength, they become dragons; and the person who converses with them, claims their friendship, or accepts wealth from them must in the end speak as they would have him/her speak and accept their evil opinions in order to preserve him/herself. He/she is unable to speak in opposition to them. Therein lies the danger, for his/her religion suffers.

The further you go in the direction of kings, the more the other direction, which is the principal one, becomes strange to you. The further you go in that direction, this direction, which should be beloved to you, turns its face away from you. . . . ‘Whosoever renders aid to the unjust/oppressor is subjugated to them by God’ [1]. When you have fully inclined toward the one to whom you are inclining, he will be made master over you.”

– Jalaluddin Rumi, from Fihi Ma Fihi.

[1] Rumi quoting a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), quoted in ‘Abd al-Ra’uf al-Munawi, Kunuz al-haqa’iq

“Haq Maujood” by Sanam Marvi and Amanat Ali


I was really surprised this morning when I signed into my WordPress account and found so many comments awaiting moderation. At first, I thought I was getting spammed, but then I checked my blog statistics and noticed that my previous post, “And They Call Me Barbarian,” was featured on WordPress’s main page (or “freshly pressed” as it’s called, I’m told).  I’m a bit overwhelmed with the number of comments, likes, and followers I received in one day, but I would like to say a sincere thank you – to my regular readers and to my new ones – for your support and solidarity! I am truly grateful. :)

This post is inspired by the “Ramadan Mixtape” series over at Aslan Media. Music is such a powerful form of expression and I think it’s great that the website is collecting songs that inspire Muslims about faith, good action, and compassion. This Punjabi song by Pakistani singers Sanam Marvi and Amanat Ali is a Sufi devotional piece and one of my favorites. Marvi and Ali both have amazing voices, masha’Allah, and I absolutely Love how they sing this song in ecstatic praise of the Creator and Imam Ali (peace be upon him). All of the musicians performing this song make it a deeply moving experience. Click on “cc” in the video for the English translation.

Below are some of my favorite lyrics in the song. I hope everyone is having a beautiful Ramadan! :)

گھوم چرخڑا چرخڑا
Ghoom charakhra charakhra
Spin, spinning wheel!

گھوم چرخڑا سائیاں دا تیری کتن والی جیوے
Ghoom charakhra saainyyaan da teri kattan waali jeewe
Spin, Lord’s spinning wheel, long live the one who spins You

کتن والی جیوے
Kattan waali jeewe
Long live the one who spins You

لڑیاں وتن والی جیوے
Lariyaan kattan wali jeevay
Long live the one who spins Your strands

مینڈا عشق وی توں مینڈا یار وی توں
Mainda ishq wi toon mainda yaar wi toon
My Love is You, my beloved is You

مینڈا دین وی توں ایمان وی توں
Mainda deen wi toon imaan wi toon
My religion is You, faith is You

مینڈا جسم وی توں مینڈی روح وی توں
Mainda jism wi toon maindi rooh wi toon
My body is You, my soul is You

مینڈا قلب وی توں جند جان وی توں
Mainda qalb wi toon jind-jaan wi toon
My inner heart is You, my spirit and life is You

مینڈا کعبہ قبلہ مسجد ممبر مذہب تے قرآن وی توں
Mainda Ka’ba qibla masjid mimbir mazhab te Qur’aan wi toon
My prayer direction, mosque, pulpit, canon and Qur’an is You

میڈے فرض فریضے حج زکاتاں صوم صلات اذان وی توں
Maide farz fareezze hajj zakaattaan saum salaat azaan wi toon
My sacred duties, my pilgrimage, fasting, prayer, and call to prayer are You

مینڈا فکر وی توں مینڈا ذکر وی توں
Mainda fikar wi toon mainda zikar wi toon
My contemplation is You, my remembrance is You

مینڈا ذوق وی توں وجدان وی توں
Mainda zauq wi toon wajdaan bhi toon
My pleasure is You, my ecstasy is You

Wishing You a Blessed Ramadan!

Salaam readers,

I know it’s been a few months since I’ve updated my blog. I’ve had several ideas for blog posts, but haven’t had the time to write them yet. Insha’Allah, soon! I know we’re well into Ramadan, but I would still like to wish everyone a happy and blessed month!  May this month be a time of reflection, spiritual growth, and most of all, compassion.  May it bring communities together and guide us all closer to justice, peace, and liberation. Ameen.

Ramadan is the month in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed to our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, so one of my goals this year is to re-read the Qur’an and learn more about the life of the Prophet and his family (peace be upon them). Like for a billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan holds a special place in my heart and always reminds me about the importance of self-discipline, God-consciousness, and showing kindness to all of Allah’s creation.

Ramadan is not without its challenges. The major concern I have every year is not about abstaining from food and drinks before sunset, but rather how workplaces accommodate our religious holiday. Workplace discrimination against Muslims in the United States has been on the rise in recent years and it serves as a reminder of how deeply engrained Islamophobia and racism is. Aside from Islamophobic remarks and harassment, especially during Ramadan, it continues to amaze me how workplaces do not see the insulting double standard when they treat their employees to food baskets, greeting cards, and “holiday dinners” for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah, but won’t even acknowledge Ramadan. It also shocks me when workplaces are not prepared (e.g. not scheduling enough help) for iftar time, which prevents Muslims from opening their fast on time or not being able to have a full meal.

I have left voice mail messages and written numerous e-mails to various departments of my employer, encouraging them that recognizing Ramadan in the workplace in an appreciative and non-superficial manner would strengthen the company’s commitment to diversity (I have issues with the way “diversity” and politics of “inclusion” serve to center whiteness, but you get the point). So far, no response. Meanwhile, I anticipate ignorant and even racist remarks from co-workers when I inform them about my fasting throughout the month. It can be annoying how the usual response is, “Oh my God, don’t you get hungry?” or “That must be so hard!” The sentiment seemed to always be, “Oh, I feel so sorry for you; your religion is really strict.”  It’s interesting when I reflect on how fasting became another way for me to resist Islamophobia and racism. At a very young age, I never wanted to show my white non-Muslim friends, classmates, teachers, and bosses that Ramadan was a difficult time for me. Instead, I learned to embrace the holiday and told them that they didn’t need to feel sorry for me and that it was offensive if they did. “I choose to fast,” I told them, “Ramadan is a special and joyous month for us.”

Anyway, I know the ignorance and bigotry is part of the challenge and struggle against Islamophobia at large. I don’t believe in shaming or scolding people for being angry, so when I say that Allah teaches us to be patient and steadfast, I don’t mean it in a condescending way, but rather as a recognition of struggle. As Allah teaches us in the Qur’an, the Divine presence is always close and near to us:

(Prophet), if My servants ask you about Me, say that I am near (to them). I respond to those who call upon Me. Let them, then, respond to Me, and believe in Me, so that they may be guided. – Qur’an 2:186

I have noticed that some Muslims can be discouraging of others by monitoring the way they pray, how they open their fast, how they express themselves, etc. Judgmental attitudes from some fellow Muslims tends to ruin the spirit of Ramadan and I think invalidating a person’s feelings is cruel and un-Islamic. There are some Muslims, for example, who are unable to fast for various reasons. There are some Muslims who choose not to fast for various reasons. As a friend told me, instead of judging and ridiculing these individuals, we should focus on our sense of community by practicing compassion and understanding without any condescension, sense of “superiority,” or arrogant and self-righteous preaching. Here is a beautiful Hadith that highlights on how integral compassion is to Islam:

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would kiss his daughter Fatima (peace be upon her), talk to her, confide in her, and have her sit by his side, without paying attention to the remarks or even the criticisms that his behavior would give rise to. Once he kissed Hassan (peace be upon him), Fatima’s son, in front of a group, who were startled. One of them, Aqra ibn Habis, expressed his shock and said: ‘I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them.’ The Prophet answered: ‘One who has no compassion for others is not entitled to compassion (from God).’ – Sahih al-Muslim (narrated by Tariq Ramadan, Qur’anic translation from Al-Islam.org)

On a similar note, Aslan Media is currently running a Ramadan “mixtape” series where Muslim writers and artists share their favorite tunes for the holy month. On today’s post, I shared Abida Parveen’s song “Assan Ishq Namaz” because of its beautiful and powerful vocals and lyrics. Here are my thoughts about the song:

Music by Pakistani living legend Abida Parveen never fails to inspire and mesmerize me. Her divinely-inspired voice passionately expresses the deeper themes of divine love, sorrow, and longing that are often found in Islamic mystical/Sufi poetry. In this song, she sings famous verses by renowned 17th century Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah. I love her ability to infuse so much pure emotion into the original poem and express how meaningful the lyrics are. The song opens with these important and relevant verses:

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee
jaan jaan warhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich warhiya naee
aa-vain larda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal lariya naee.

[Yes, you have read thousands of books,
but you have never tried to read your own self;
you rush in, into your Temples, into your Mosques,
but you have never tried to enter your own heart;
futile are all your battles with Satan,
for you have never tried to fight your own desires.]

This message of self-reflection, humility, and holding one’s self accountable captures the compassionate heart of Islam and is conveyed so powerfully when Parveen sings it. Bulleh Shah reminds us that when we judge others or perceive ourselves as “more pious” or “superior,” we fall into arrogance, hypocrisy, and failure to see our own faults. I believe these lyrics are relevant to social justice struggles as well and how self-critique and accountability is needed so that we don’t reproduce oppressive forces in our own movements. It is respect and compassion for every human being that makes Bulleh Shah’s message so beautiful and Islamic.

May Ramadan guide us to bettering ourselves and the societies in which we live. Ameen. I end this entry by sharing another amazing song by Abida Parveen, “Soz-e-Ishq.” I listened to it one day after sehri time and fajr prayer and it was such a soulful and soothing moment. The vocals, the lyrics, the music composition and arrangement – everything about it is so incredibly beautiful and spiritually moving (click on “cc” for the English translation). Enjoy!

Fire Under Water


Their cold-hearts cast you out.
Here, beneath motionless skies
where all that would shine
is tinted in monochrome.

The taste of winter air
slithers into your lungs
and exhales as a trembling sigh –
cold smoke falling from your lips,
curling downward and vanishing
into icy waters.

Thousands of books
are sinking in this ocean:
mistranslations, romanticized histories
distorted facts, lies against humanity.

Pages too ashamed to show their faces,
longing to tear themselves out of binding;
black ink too ashamed of the words it was forced to write,
longing to drain its blood into non-existence –
both welcome death at sea.

You watch from the shore
shivering in the arcane chill;
the world still bleeds,
the sound of violence echoes from afar,
bombs, gunfire, voices crying out –
the roar of this distant thunder
growling louder like an oncoming storm.
You mourn for all those nameless, faceless people;
those who were called friends, Lovers,
mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters:
their last breath lingering in the air you breathe.

Tears begin to flow;
your black funeral cloak
blowing in the wintry breeze,
unfurling like a banner
with grieving strokes of poetry
painted in red upon its flowing cloth,
reminding that mystery we call ‘soul’
about Karbala’s tearful tragedy.

O broken spirit,
listen to the drumbeat in your heart
throbbing like the tabla
harmonized with ecstatic Qawwali praise,
a song for martyrs is taking flight.
Feel that unseen being within
pounding like a relentless hammer
at the exit door of your chest –
screaming to break open,
pleading to be seen,
to escape this lonely chamber.

The music strikes like lightning,
like a firestorm erupting in your veins,
hot sparks bursting in your blood –
pulsing chaos in fiery crimson –
electric currents charging through skin,
igniting body into mystic fire.

Burning rhythm
possessing you in its divine rapture,
locking you in its surreal magnetism;
your arms spread, palms open,
calling energy from heaven and earth;
your head swinging in euphoria
the wind racing through your hair –
everything is spinning round,
spin with it, O friend!
whirl in the direction of Mecca’s pilgrims!
slam your bare feet onto the ice
crush this frozen glass, melt this misery,
dance upon cool waters
and watch steam ascend.

The music leaps to your lungs
and escapes, bursts into a desperate cry –
a voice so passionate and fierce,
wailing in all of its agony,
crying out for Creator, for that One,
for peace, for reunion;
crying out for justice –
to drown out the hell that is war,
to blast every drone out of the sky,
to halt every soldier on the battlefield,
to lock every weapon in eternal ceasefire,
to blot out the lies and have truth revealed;
a cry so loud and raging –
to wake up the masses,
to shatter the colonial implant in our minds,
to demolish the pillars of supremacy,
to smash every spy camera invading our privacy,
to cut the plug that wired us to this machine.

You want to charge, you want to march onward,
but an icy tentacle from the ocean below
wraps around your legs –
in a swift, violent tug
it pulls you under.
Suddenly, all this heat
is swallowed again by winter.

Frozen blades pierce into your body,
shattered glass cutting into your skin;
all of your thoughts flooded
by cruel, crashing tides.
You fight to swim skyward
as you sink deeper
into this sea of lies –
desperate hands stretched, reaching
for anything to hold,
anything to survive.

Your thoughts call out to Creator,
begging for answers, praying for a hand
to reach down below.
You have fought this battle before,
but the hatred, the violence, the apathy –
the waves are too powerful now.

Just when you think this is the end,
a small, radiant orb of light
descends towards your begging hands
Remember, dear heart, it says,
God is in the darkness, too.

You have sung so many ghazals of sorrow,
spent so many days grieving separation,
wept so many tears for the Friend,
sought so many answers to erase your fears;
I have listened, I have understood –
I am Here.

O faithful follower,
feel this warm breath
wisp across your face,
God wants you alive.
You will not drown
in this death before death.

Catch this eternal flame,
place it in your heart,
and I will set you ablaze.
Become on fire for Me,
shine like Zulfiqar;
burn, glow – in all of your beauty
as fire under water.

~ Mast Qalander

Soul Twin

I wait for you.

Like a messianic prophecy
that will someday come true.

We existed together
before creation of the universe,
somewhere beyond ideas of time,
space and matter.

Elements we became,
stardust fallen from the heavens,
risen upon earth
in beautiful skin and bone.

Separate we are,
histories of our own,
yet sharing a dream
that sometimes seems
too far-fetched to understand.

I search for you.

Like mystics possessed by longing
for unity with God.

Deep in the city of my soul,
walking through the remains
of shattered dreams
and haunted memories,
the cold stare of phantoms
remind me of the battles
that were fought,
all of the pain and agony
that was endured.

There are whispers here
amongst the dark ruins,
voices that speak of the One,
a companion who will come
fulfilling a truth forgotten.

The roses I find in the dark
are signs of your presence,
I have not seen your face,
but I know you are here,
existing within me,
where I am also
within you.

Our souls overlapping,
walking, sometimes racing
towards one another;
journey onward, say the voices,
across the oceans,
the fields, the mountains.
Reunion is close,
slowly coming into view
like darkness fading to dawn.
Don’t give up, friend,
follow the signs
for they are rays of light
cast from the Beloved.

I breathe with you
and you with me,
reciting holy verses
to bridge distanced hearts,
like poetry we are,
music in perfect harmony;
Believe –
meld your flame with mine,
we’ll make a firestorm together,
fierce and passionate
like strokes of lightning,
flashing in their wild splendor,
lighting up the skies
for all eyes to see;
and like bursts of hot energy
shooting beams of fiery light,
we’ll strike the earth,
burning and melting the illusions
to set our prisoner-selves free.

We’ll wake from this dream-world,
and become crowned
on the throne of Love
in our transcendent reality.
We’ll enter the garden
and become whole again,
lit by the torch of Angels,
shining ablaze in our immortality.

Feel this union in meditation,
in a place where separation fades away;
only you can understand this magic
that drives the journey through.

Know that when I dance for God,
I am also dancing for you.

~ Jehanzeb

Awaken

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BURNING at the center
of mere being
there is a radiant star
blazing in all of its agony
to reveal a secret
that you never knew existed.

You are asleep
haunted by the phantoms
of illusory dream-world;
caught and entangled
in the chaos
of false liberation.

Awaken
to the sound of
shockwaves tearing
across the sky
as the whirling dervish rotates
with the dance of the universe;
pound the drum that stimulates
the mystery of heart and soul;
listen to the rhythm that pulsates
with mystic solar energy
of time immemorial.

You are dizzy
lost in this ecstatic high
ailing from confusion
the dervish says:
you have been drinking poison
all of your life
you have been a victim
of a sadistic science experiment
reprogrammed by greedy corporations
implanted with falsehood
artificiality of living
you are an android
dreaming to be
human.

Unplug yourself
From the lies
From deceit and deception
From the fear and misery
Unplug
From the system.

Come, this way
to the open field
where the blade of sunlight
pierces through darkness;
open your mouth
and drink some of this
become absorbed
in this hyper trance
turn, spin, whirl
up, down, left, right
let go
and become
nameless, faceless
directionless.

Discover your luminary self
conquer dizziness
burn through the shell
of temporal chrysalis;
radiate like celestial fire
emerge and bloom
into flowery madness.

Yes, you know who you are
You are here to set the world ablaze;
open your eyes
with the flame of ignited stars
and see the universe
that was created with One Divine Breath.

Inhale and exhale with that.

A Personal Reflection on Shab-e-Miraj

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Tonight marks the night when our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and Love be upon him, ascended to the seven heavens with the guidance of the archangel Gabriel. His ascension took place from Jerusalem, where he was carried into the heavens on a flying horse named Al-Buraq. This miraculous night journey is one of the most important events in Islamic history because it not only established daily prayer in the Muslim way of life, but also tested the Faith of Muhammad’s companions. Traveling to Jerusalem, leading prayer with all the Abrahamic Prophets, and being carried into the Seven Heavens seemed unbelievable to many people at the time. How could anyone believe him?

When the Prophet returned from his journey, fellow Muslims even doubted what the Prophet was saying. Some people approached the Prophet’s friend, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and said, “Look at what your companion is saying. He says he went to Jerusalem and came back in one night!” Abu Bakr replied, “If Muhammad said it happened, then it must have happened. I believed him when he first talked about Divine Revelation, why should I doubt him now?” On this occasion, Abu Bakr earned the famous title of “As-Siddiq” (the Truthful).

Al-Miraj was discussed at my Mosque a few months ago and I remember the speech was so moving that it made me reevaluate certain things in my life. As many of my friends know, I felt that my spiritual journey truly began in 2002 when I started to persistently and diligently question everything. In that time, I felt that I discovered the importance of prayer by actively questioning it: Why do we pray? Because we’re told, or because we truly understand the significance of detaching from the material world and reminding ourselves to be mindful of Allah’s Greatness and Omnipresence?

Over the years, prayer has been a special part of my life and I always strive to capture the true essence of it rather than doing it ritualistically. But there was something different about the speech that was given at my Mosque a few months ago. We were taught that prayer was given to us by Allah as a Gift. It was a reminder, yes, I recalled reading in the Qur’an several times that prayer is for our benefit, but at the same time, it was a new perspective. As the speaker put it, “Allah told Muhammad, ‘Tell your followers that if they want to experience Miraj, this is it, salaat (prayer).'”

As I reflect on Al-Isra and Al-Miraj, I think about all the wonderful people I’ve met in the past year or two and how grateful I am for knowing them and calling them my friends. It’s a beautiful thing to share some of my spiritual experiences with friends who can relate to them, and it’s also great to be awestruck by all the beauties that unfold before us every day (we just have to do our best to be mindful of them). Beauties that we often call “coincidences” and then overlook them without realizing how significant and special those experiences are. Today, for example, I found a quote that I’ve been searching for for a quite some time now. And I found it in a book that resonates with special meaning to me. It’s by an Islamic mystic (Sufi) woman in the late 9th century:

Being in the company of one’s spiritual brethren in this world is the consolation for being in the abode of materiality. ~ Oum Abdullah

It’s so easy to get discouraged in the motions of life, but it’s a blessing to have your true friends around; people who listen, care, and understand. Just like the Prophet’s ascension to the seven heavens, this kind of friendship, brother/sisterhood, and Love cannot be measured empirically. I feel with all my heart that the friendships I’m blessed with are transcendent of the materialistic world that tries to keep us stressed, afraid, worried, and sad.

May Allah bless our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, his family, his companions, and all of the Prophets. And may Allah bless you, my dear friends :)

Peace, Love, and Light

~Jehanzeb