Tuesday, October 11, 2005

… two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl …

Ramadan is a month of worship, of regaining your lost or faded spiritual vision. Our souls have eyes to recognise good and evil. But as we are immersed in the material world and the challenges of daily life, we lose that vision.

Food and drink and sex are not intrinsically or inherently bad. In fact, they are necessary. But it is also necessary to deprive one’s self of these essentials at least once in a while. For Muslims, that happens during the 29 or 30 days of Ramadan.

During this time, we have to refrain from eating and drinking and sexual intercourse between sunrise and sunset. We deprive ourselves of these essentials and suspend our appetites for part of the day for a whole month. A slice of each year is taken up with this exercise.

My problem is that I have to eat. Even during during Ramadan. And I have to drink. I have to have food and fluid in my body or else my medication will kill my kidneys and dehydrate me.

Both religion and common sense dictate that I cannot fast. If I fast, I will kill myself. And notwithstanding what some officials from certain so-called Islamic groups teach, suicide is strictly forbidden.

Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, the spiritual preceptor of Imam Abu Hanifa (perhaps the greatest jurist the world, if not just the Islamic world, has ever seen), quoted the Prophet Muhammad as stating:

“God says: Fasting is for Me and I am its reward.”

When we fast, God rewards us with spiritual vision that we can use to see or witness God’s greatness. I feel like I am deprived of this vision. My spirit is blurred.

I had the same feeling around 11 months ago. At that time, I was able to share that feeling with someone I had been friends with for the previous 11 months. Yet it was only during Ramadan that I realised just how deep that friendship was.

People who befriend each other for God’s sake are said to enjoy the shade of God’s throne on the Day of Judgment when there will be no shade. I hope and pray that Jane and I will share that shade. Until that time, we will be two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl.

Jane (I have changed essential details to protect her anonymity) never met her Muslim father. Her father was a descendant of the Bani Alawi tribe, with ancestry meeting the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (the direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad) at the point of Imam Ali bin Husayn, known as “Zainal Abidin” (“prince of the worshippers”).

But when I met Jane, she wore a short skirt and was serving drinks behind a bar. She could have been Spanish or Portuguese or Polynesian. One day I paid for drinks using my Visa card. Since that day, Jane seemed insistent to befriend me.

Later, she would tell me the reason. “I knew from your name that you were Muslim. My father was Muslim.”

After that, almost each visit involved her picking my brain on the finer points of Islamic culture. Each time I visit the mosque for the nightly “tarawih” prayers, I remember her text message on my phone where she asks “what’s a tarawih?”. I haven’t had a chance to answer her yet.

I hope one day I do have that chance. Because I know she is sick and tired of confusing the hot air of conventional wisdom and spirituality for the cool breeze of her father’s spiritual heritage.

Life has been cruel to Jane. She wants to remain friends, but has to sort so many things out. The last time I spoke with her, I was troubled to hear she felt suicidal and severely depressed.

Of course, I am not responsible for her feelings. And if she doesn’t want my help at this (or indeed at any) stage, that is her choice. But Jane has taught me so many things for which I feel so grateful.

Jane taught me how important it is never to presume things about people. Never to judge a book by its cover. She is living proof of the fact that what really counts is what is in your heart. And she has so much compassion and goodness in her heart.

Jane also taught me that the greatest joy for a Muslim is to discover another Muslim. And if you are like me, a Muslim on the fringes, it is so nice to meet another fringe-dwelling Muslim.

I have been swimming alone in this fishbowl, surrounded by strange creatures and weed and fauna. And then God sent me another soul almost as lost as mine. And I no longer felt alone in this crazy fishbowl.

I often describe Jane as my “Shums”, using the name of the spiritual preceptor of the sufi poet and jurist Mevlana Jelal ad-Din Rumi. Over the years of our friendship, Jane managed to extract plenty of Rumi books from me. She also extracted a DVD, a few CD’s and countless books and pamphlets.

It is a cliché that “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”. I seriously hope and pray that Jane hasn’t gone and that she will contact me again as she always promised. I hope she can sort out all her stuff, that she can get her shit together and that we can resume from where we left off.

In the meantime, I will miss her dearly and will pray for her. She brought so much joy and peace to me at a time when no one could bring peace. She was my Shums, except that I hope she returns and hangs around in my fishbowl.

How I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
Look what we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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