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Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

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When Prophets Come Alive

I recently accompanied my murshid on a spiritual retreat in Turkey, along with a group of dear friends and seekers. We sat in the presence of sufi teachers and visited shrines, including the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus and the tombs of Mevlana Rumi and Shams of Tabriz in Konya.
One of the lessons that resonated with me was the idea that we can relate to prophets and saints like Muhammad, Jesus, Mary, Buddha or Rumi not merely as historical figures, but as sacred personalities who belong to all humanity, rather than a particular religion, ideology or nationality. They represent transcendent qualities accessible through the collective human consciousness.

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The House of Mary in Ephesus, Turkey (Photo by David John Ward)

We open ourselves up to a direct experience with these sacred figures when we bring our lower selves or egos (called nafs in sufi terminology) into alignment with our hearts. In sufism, this is achieved by cultivating consciousness of the Divine Reality, or Allah, through zikr, or remembrance. Over time, such practices heighten our spiritual radar and we grow more and more into our greatest humanness, where direct experiences with the Beloved permeate all circumstances of life.

As Mevlana Rumi says:

Our body is like Mary.
Each of us has a Jesus inside.
If a pain and yearning shows up inside us,
the Jesus of our soul is born.
If there is no pain, no yearning,
the Jesus of our soul will return to its origin from
the same secret passageway he came from…
If there is no pain, no yearning,
we will remain deprived
not benefiting from that Jesus of the soul.
(Translated by Omid Safi, in Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition)



Understanding that prophets and saints reside in the potentiality of every human’s 
experience opened a deeper dimension of intimacy and connection for me. It’s also obliterated the cultural and religious divisions that I’d grown up believing separated people.

In my journey, I’ve felt connected to prophets and saints not merely because I’d read about them and appreciated their stories. But because shifts in my consciousness have given me a direct sense of who they were and how their qualities have manifested in my own experience.

One of my first such encounters was with Khadija, Muhammad’s first wife. She came into view just as my consciousness was awakening to the dimension of Spirit that I’d been blind to after a lifetime of being trapped in my mind. A single mother managing a multinational business, Khadija exuded strength and confidence, so much so that she had no qualms about proposing marriage to the much younger Muhammad, her employee.

More than admiring her audacity, though, I started to notice how her courage to live 
outside social norms was transforming my own way of being in the world. It was as 
though she came alive inside of me: I gradually turned off all the cultural and familial noise and pressures standing in the way of charting out my own path. A wholly receptive feminine energy, Khadija revealed herself in the intuitive part of me that feels an unbreakable heart connection to the Divine even in the face of prevailing mainstream pressures that rejected this, in her time and mine.

Sacred breezes like Khadija’s have swept over me at many points on my journey, awakening qualities I wasn’t aware existed. Recently, for instance, I had my first deep contact with Imam Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin. I was initially startled because Ali is famed for being a great warrior who fought many battles at the prophet’s side. I didn’t fathom such masculinity could exist in myself.

And yet after spending some time reading about Ali’s devotion to Muhammad, parallels emerged. Ali offers an example of how to arrive fully armed to our inner battle ground where the fight for the soul, or jihad, takes place. A big part of me, especially in the past couple of years, has been bold in confronting many painful psychological wounds blocking my path to spiritual maturity, always with abundant self compassion.

The Ali in me has the gentle courage to bring unhealthy patterns of behaviour rooted in childhood trauma and religious and cultural conditioning into conscious awareness and allow the spiritual alchemy of zikr to transform and heal them. The more I peel away the veils of my lower self and realign my psyche toward Compassion and Love, the more I grasp Ali’s presence and appreciate why the Prophet said, “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate.”



Moments of insight like these remind me that journeying on the sufi path puts me in direct contact not only with my living teachers, but with a lineage of saints, prophets and friends of God. In my own tradition of Mevlevi sufism, rooted in the teachings of Mevlana Rumi, I sometimes imagine the dialogue between Shams of Tabriz and Rumi happening within me.

Shams ignited the flame of Divine Love in Rumi by daring him to view reality from a 
different vantage point. I experience Shams, Arabic for sun, as the inner witness 
objectively observing my thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions and shining a light on where I need to pay attention. His luminous being challenges me to question familiar patterns of thought and behaviour, and rub away the layers of tarnish that separate me from my spiritual heart.

The more polished my heart becomes, meanwhile, inhibitions melt away and I shock myself with creativity and ideas. Writing flows more easily, and I’ve developed a love for singing, learning to play music and whirling that I couldn’t have imagined possible even a couple of years ago. It’s here that I catch a glimpse of the radiance of Rumi, through whom that Divine Creativity surged in tens of thousands of verses of poetry.

With each step I take to open in receptivity to wisdom coming in from the Unseen, I’m pick up subtler frequencies of spiritual perception. Sometimes it’s as though I can tune into an intimate and lively sohbet, or spiritual conversation, taking place in my heart, where humanity’s sacred teachers blow insight and truth, if I am still enough to listen.

Continue reading “When Prophets Come Alive”

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Translating Love’s Confusion: Hollywood and Misreading Rumi

The 2010 Hollywood celebrity fest chick-flick Valentine’s Day opens with Reed Bennett, a florist played by Ashton Kutscher, proposing marriage to Morley (Jessica Alba), as she wakes up on Feb. 14.

Evidently startled, Morley initially accepts, sending Reed on a joyful mission to let everyone know his sweetheart said “yes”! But his elation is short-lived. A few hours later Reed finds Morley in his apartment packing her bag as she hands back his ring and walks out on the relationship entirely.

Just then, as movie’s downtrodden protagonist leaves the scene, the narrator — a radio show host named “Romeo Midnight” — drops a word of wisdom that sounds a tinge sufi.

“It’s Romeo Midnight back again.
And if those topsy-turvy feelings have got you twisted inside out, think of the poet Rumi who 800 years ago said: `All we really want is love’s confusing joy.’
Amen, brother.”

 

When I watched this movie shortly after its release, I was bemused at the irony of hearing a 13th-century Islamic poet and scholar quoted in a cheesy American blockbuster seemingly unwittingly. A Persian poet of love, Rumi is often uprooted from his historical context and polished for resale for Western audiences who may not realize his object of affection isn’t a romantic love interest, but the Divine Beloved.

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Heart of Steel, by Livlu Ghemaru

Rumi writes in a transcendent and inclusive way about love and loss, so his wide-reaching appeal isn’t surprising. Yet it can be frustrating to see him conspicuously taken out of context. Not only is he often divorced of the Islam, or Self Surrender, his poetry conveys, Rumi’s words can be used to propagate unrealistic ideals of how romantic love is the magic key to personal fulfilment and happily ever after.

I’ve certainly been swept up in these sentimental pursuits, especially in my 20s. My upbringing combined Egyptian influences and North American popular culture (Hollywood and Disney included), particularly in the late-1980s and 90s, both of which dictated I needed to find love, get married and have children to be whole.

Measured against these standards, I was a failure. Before 25, I’d broken off two engagements, and for many years after that my love life was one long dry spell punctured by a handful of dates and a couple of agonizing encounters with unrequited love. A resentful inner critic insisted I was to blame, and that persistent hollowness in my core could only be filled with romantic love, which I felt I couldn’t be worthy of; I couldn’t get the part. Continue reading “Translating Love’s Confusion: Hollywood and Misreading Rumi”

Of Saints and Matchmakers

As I was growing up, Islam’s benevolent female saints existed in my imagination as otherworldly matchmakers.

Common features of my family’s infrequent summer holidays with relatives in Egypt were visits to mosques enclosing the shrines of Sayyida Zainab and Sayyida Nafisa, two descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who have come to be regarded as Cairo’s patron saints, may God grant them peace and blessings. My mother, often with her sisters who lived in smaller cities along the Suez Canal, would arrange mini pilgrimages to these grand Cairene mosques for a single purpose: to pray for suitable partners for their unmarried children.

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Female worshippers gather around Sayyida Zainab’s mausoleum in Cairo

Amidst weeps and whispers, they would gather around the mausoleums of these saints offering earnest prayers to rescue their single daughters and sons from the matrimonial side lines. From beyond the divide between this world and the next, these venerable women of faith would intimately identify with the anguish of being the mother of an unwed child and act as intermediaries with God in removing the obstacles blocking the perfect partner from springing forth – at least that was the hope of my female kin.

While my own memories of these visits are vague and likely layered by personal accounts relayed by my mother over the years, the urgency placed on marriage left me feeling perplexed. The more I found myself becoming the focal point of the prayers, the more frustrating and painful these pilgrimages became.

By my mid- and then late 20s, the cultural pressures to wed young and my inability to make it happen inadvertently alienated me from faith, and obscured my view of the spiritual significance and prowess of these female saints. My only encounters with them were a manifestation of socio-culture pressures that dictate a woman’s value lies solely in her success as a wife and mother, a line of thinking that left me jaded and confined rather than empowered by their presence. Continue reading “Of Saints and Matchmakers”

Light Upon Light

In the moments before I first learned of the darkness unfolding in Paris on Friday, I was sitting in a circle of light.

Some fellow seekers and I were seated as we often are on Friday evening, pondering on the path of those yearning for closeness and presence with God.

On this particular occasion, we were discussing a passage of Islamic poet Rumi’s Masnavi called Veils of Light.

Each rich line reminded me of what drew me to this path of Islam in the first place: a crystal clear moment of understanding in 2010 when I first encountered that Light. When the first veil was lifted, revealing a love that transformed how I would perceive everything after that moment.

Continue reading “Light Upon Light”

Banana cake with a nutella twist

I love bananas and I love Nutella and combining the two leads to sheer magic. While it is very difficult to imagine improving on Nutella, when you combine it with fresh cream, butter and icing sugar, and then spread this frosting atop a moist cake chock full of bananas and walnuts, the blend of flavours is simply mouth-watering. Continue reading “Banana cake with a nutella twist”

The sweet traditions of Eid


The end of Ramadan is always bittersweet for me. I grow accustomed to the rhythm of the Islamic month of fasting – the slowdown in consumption and focus on prayer, empathy for the less fortunate, charity, gratitude, reflection and patience are all reinvigorating for the spirit. It’s a month I’ve participated in since my pre-teens and each year that I can remember, I’ve felt a tinge of disappointment on the final day, which always seems to arrive far quicker than I imagine it should.
Continue reading “The sweet traditions of Eid”

Remembering my quirky uncle

“What can you do when you live in a zoo?”

My sister sent this phrase to me in a text message today, reminding me of a line one of my uncles would often say to make light of life’s ups and downs. Never take anything too seriously always seemed to be the philosophy which guided his life, for better or – as was often the case – for worse.

My sisters and I exchanged memories of our maternal uncle Adel throughout the afternoon after learning this morning that he had passed away (الله يرحمه/God rest his soul). It was a tough and emotional day coming to grips with the idea that I wouldn’t see my uncle again during this life.

Continue reading “Remembering my quirky uncle”

Lost letters

(A version of this story was carried by the Huffington Post)

One memory from my childhood was watching my mom sit at the kitchen table with a pen and stack of lined loose-leaf sheets of paper to write one of her three sisters a long letter, handwritten in attractive Arabic script.

This was one of the only activities that could draw mom away from her rigorous daily routine of managing every family affair and caring for three daughters with boundless dedication. Taking the time to write letters was a rare respite for our supermom. She would become immersed in her thoughts and intently focus on the blank sheets in front of her, as well as the multi-paged letter she’d received in the mail a day or two prior and was then replying to.

For more than an hour, swiftly and with ease, she would craft page after page of prose, pouring onto the paper the multitude of thoughts and feelings that she had stored in a crevice of her mind for the months, if not more than a year, since the last time she sat down to write to one of her sisters. Continue reading “Lost letters”

I’ll Remember, Insha’Allah

The other day I scheduled a long-overdue appointment for a dental cleaning. I had called a few days in advance and arranged for an early-morning slot so that I could arrive in the office before the workload got too heavy. Leaving my apartment about 35 minutes before the appointment, I imagined I left enough time to arrive on schedule.

That is, until I got into a small car accident less than 10 minutes later.

As I waited to turn right at an intersection not far from my apartment, the car behind me abruptly drove into the rear of my small hatchback, suddenly jolting me forward and setting back my initial plans.

I pulled over to the curb just beyond the intersection to assess the damage and the profusely apologetic young woman in the car behind me called the police so that we could file a traffic accident report. Once I knew officers were on the way, I called the dentist to reschedule the appointment for another day. My plans for the morning were swiftly unwritten and rather than visit the dentist, I took the police report to my insurance office to file a claim instead. Continue reading “I’ll Remember, Insha’Allah”

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