[Behind the Veil]

“We said: The man had the desire to see you. He kept saying, ‘I wish I could have seen the Master.’

The Master said: He does not see the Master at this moment in truth because the desire which filled him, namely that he might see the Master, was a veil over the Master. So he does not see the Master at this moment without a veil. So it is with all desires and affections, all loves and fondnesses which people have for every variety of thing—father, mother, heaven, earth, gardens, palaces, branches of knowledge, acts, things to eat and drink. The man of God realises that all these desires are the desire for God, and all those things are veils. When men pass out of this world and behold that King without these veils, then they will realise that all those were veils and coverings, their quest being in reality that One Thing. All difficulties will then be resolved, and they will hear in their hearts the answer to all questions and all problems, and every thing will be seen face to face.

It is not God’s way to answer every difficulty singly, but by one answer all questions will be made known all at once and the total difficulty will be resolved. In the same way in winter every man puts on warm clothes and a leather jacket and creeps for shelter from the cold into an oven, into a warm hollow. So too all plants, trees, shrubs and the like, bitten by the venomous cold remain without leaves and fruit, and store and hide their goods and chattels inwardly so that the malice of the cold may not reach them. When spring in a single epiphany answers their requests, all their various problems, whether they be living, springing or lying fallow, will be resolved, and those secondary causes will disappear. All will put forth their heads, and realise what was the cause of that misery.

God has created these veils for a good purpose. For if God’s beauty would display itself without a veil, we would not have the power to endure and would not enjoy it. Through the intermediary of these veils we derive succour and benefit.

You see yonder sun, how in its light we walk and see and distinguish from bad and are warmed. The trees and orchards become fruitful, and in the heat of it their fruits, unripe and sour and bitter, become mature and sweet. Through its influence mines of gold and silver, rubies and cornelians are made manifest. If yonder sun, which through intermediaries bestows so many benefits, were to come nearer it would bestow no benefit whatsoever; on the contrary, the whole world and every creature would be burned up and destroyed.

When God most High makes revelation through a veil to the mountain, it too becomes fully arrayed in trees and flowers and verdure. When however He makes revelation without a veil, He overthrows the mountain and breaks it into atoms.

And when his Lord revealed Him to the mountain He made it crumble into dust.

Someone interposed the question: Well, is there not the same sun too in the winter?

The Master answered: Our purpose here was to draw a comparison. There is neither ‘camel’ nor ‘lamb’. Likeness is one thing, comparison is another. Although our reason cannot comprehend that thing however it may exert itself, yet how shall the reason abandon the effort? If the reason gave up the struggle, it would no more be the reason. Reason is that thing which perpetually, night and day, is restless and in commotion, thinking and struggling and striving to comprehend, even though He is uncomprehended and incomprehensible.

Reason is like a moth, and the Beloved is like a candle. Whensoever the moth dashes itself against the candle, it is consumed and destroyed. But the moth is so by nature, that however much it may be hurt by that consuming and agony it cannot do without the candle. If there were any animal like the moth that could not do without the light of the candle and dashed itself against that light, it would itself be a moth; whilst if the moth dashed itself against the light of the candle and the moth were not consumed, that indeed would not be a candle.

Therefore the man who can do without God and makes no effort is no man at all; whilst if he were able to comprehend God, that indeed would not be God. Therefore the true man is he who is never free from striving, who revolves restlessly and ceaselessly about the light of the Majesty of God. And God is He who consumes man and makes him naught, being comprehended of no reason.”

Source: Discourses of Rumi, translated by A.J. Arberry, pp. 46-8; Title quote by Jalaluddin Rumi

[“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”]

“We have spoken of those who are on the right, that is, the saved. What of those on the left, the damned? Hell might seem to need some explanation because on the one hand the Quranic descriptions of the sufferings of Hell are unsurpassably terrible, yielding nothing in this respect to the Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian descriptions of Hell, but on the other hand the Qur’an insists that whereas every good deed is rewarded ten-fold each sin is punished only with its equivalent (6:160). How then is it possible to deserve Hell? But before trying to answer this question we must first interrogate ourselves. We may think we are capable of assessing sinful acts such as murder or theft, and we hear not infrequently today of crimes so appalling and indicative of such a horrible state of the soul that we might say no punishment but Hell is bad enough for this, until we remember that Hell is not just for a day or a week but seemingly endless. We will come back later to this question of duration; but are we capable of assessing the gravity of sins which are states lived without respite from one year’s end to another like the sin of atheism to which we may add agnosticism? The Creator says in the Qur’an: I did not create jinn and men except that they should worship Me (51:56). What makes man human is that he should reach beyond this world. The man who fails to worship is subhuman—not merely that, as the Qur’an points out, but even lower than the animals (25:44). In short, man was created as representative of God on earth endowed with immense privileges such as no other earthly creature enjoys. In a very early Meccan revelation the Qur’an affirms: We created man in the fairest rectitude. Then cast We him down to be the lowest of the low, except for those who believe and who do the good deeds that piety demands (95:4-6).

The greatest of God’s gifts to man at his creation is his power to conceive the Transcendent, nor does it begin in this life. The Qur’an stresses that at the creation of Adam every human being later to be born into this world was imbued with the knowledge of the Divine Lordship. In other words every human being has in the depth of his nature a sense of the Absolute. According to the Qur’an the sin of sins is turning one’s back on the Transcendent in order to give all one’s attention to this world, not as the representative of God but as a parody of God, a would-be independent tyrant out for an unrestrained and undirected exploitation of all the resources of the earthly state. This is the great betrayal of trust, and if Hell seems to have a touch of the Absolute it is because this betrayal is in relation to the Absolute. But Hell is not Absolute and cannot be Eternal for that is the prerogative of the Hidden Treasure alone. It is true that the Qur’an speaks of the people of Hell as abiding therein forever, but this forever has to be understood in a relative sense, for there is one very explicit passage in which a double limitation is put on the everlastingness of Hell (11:103-8). Its inmates are described as abiding therein so long as the heavens and the earth endure except as God wisheth. Verily God is ever the doer of what He will. The first of the two limitations, so long as the heavens and the earth endure, can be interpreted ‘until the Creator reabsorbs the created universe back into Himself.’ As to the second limitation, it clearly refers to the possibility of Divine intervention, and this is explained in a well-known saying of the Prophet that after the Judgement, when the wretched are in Hell and the blessed are in Paradise, God will call together the Angels and the Prophets and the believers and bid them intercede for those in Hell, and in consequence a multitude of souls are released until finally He orders the release of all those in whom there is any good so that only those who have no good to their credit are left in Hell. Then He will say: ‘The Angels have interceded and the Prophets have interceded and the believers have interceded and none is left to intercede save the Most Merciful of the Merciful.’ And He will take out of Hell all who are left and will throw them into the River of Life at the entrance to the Gardens of Paradise.

The passage in the Qur’an on which this is a commentary goes on to describe the blessed in Paradise as abiding therein so long as the heavens and the earth endure except as God wisheth. Apparently there is the same double limitation on the everlastingness of Paradise as on that of Hell, but this is not so, for Paradise, unlike Hell, is as it were open to the Absolute, in virtue of the highest Paradise, that of the Essence, which is the Absolute Itself. Thus in the Qur’an immediately after what we have quoted there comes the reassuring promise in the definition of Paradise as a gift that shall not be taken away. The Prophet’s explanation of this whole Quranic passage continues: “After the last people have been taken out of Hell God will turn to the people of Paradise and say: ‘Are ye content?’ And they will say: ‘How should we not be content?’ and He will say: ‘I will give you better than this.’ And they will say: ‘What thing, O Lord, is better?’ and He will say: ‘I will enfold you in My Ridwan (God’s good pleasure).'”

This is something which the highest Saints already know as we have seen. But the lower Paradises belong to the created universe which in the end also returns to the Creator on the day when We shall roll up the heavens as at the rolling up of a written scroll (21:104). So Paradise is a gift that shall not be taken away because although in fact it is taken away it is replaced by the incomparably greater felicity of the Supreme Paradise which is no less than the Infinite Eternal Beatitude of the Hidden Treasure from which all creation proceeds and to which it all returns.

In Christianity we can recall the words of Christ when he appeared to St. Juliana of Norwich  who was greatly troubled by thoughts of the sufferings in Hell: ‘But all shall be well’ to which, when he saw that she was not altogether satisfied he added: ‘All manner of thing shall be well.’

It could not be otherwise, for it must always be remembered that man is made in the image of God, and this means that it is not legitimate to attribute to Divine Providence anything that violates the God-given human sense of values, which includes the sense of responsibility. God knows that the worst sinner in Hell are totally innocent of one thing, namely their own existence, for which He alone is responsible. Thus the Qur’an continually affirms that everything finally will be brought back to Him. In other words He is bound to reabsorb into the indescribable Felicity of His Own Essence everything which He manifested from it. God’s is the Sovereignty over the heavens and the earth; and unto God is the ultimate becoming (24:42).”

Source: Martin Lings, A Return to the Spirit: Questions and Answers, Chapter 6, pp. 74-77

[How to Read Mevlana]

Rumi’s poetry is widely considered one of the great masterpieces of Islamic literatures, and Rumi is now the best-selling poet in America. This talk will serve as a deep introduction to Rumi’s masterpiece, by taking the audience inside the main teachings and structure of the Masnavi. No background or language is necessary.

Dr. Omid Safi is a leading public Muslim intellectual in America. He is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam and the current Chair for the Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization devoted to the academic study of religion.

Omid is an award-winning teacher and speaker, and was nominated six times at Colgate University for the “Professor of the Year” award, and before that twice at Duke University for the Distinguished Lecturer award. At the University of North Carolina, he received the award for mentoring minority students in 2009, and the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

He is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2003). His work Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, was published by UNC Press in 2006. His Voices of Islam: Voices of Change, was published by Praeger in 2006. His last book was published by HarperCollins, titled Memories of Muhammad, and deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has a forthcoming volume from Princeton University Press on the famed mystic Rumi. The Carnegie Foundation recognized Omid as a leading Scholar of Islam in 2007-2008 for studying contemporary Islamic debates in Iran. That topic will be the topic of his next book from Harvard University Press. His volume on American Islam is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

[Layers of the Heart]

“To illustrate the multiple structure of the heart, the protective function of each layer, and the need to keep all of them intact, the author (Hakim at-Tirmidhi) suggests several analogies. Here are a few abridged passages culled from this treatise (The Difference Between the Chest, the Heart, the Inner Heart, and the Kernel of the Heart):

The name ‘heart’ is a general name which refers to its inner stations. There are spaces within and without that [which is commonly known as] heart. [In this respect] the name ‘heart’ resembles the name ‘eye’, since ‘eye’ refers to all that is included within the rim of the eyelids: the white of the eye, the black [of the eye], the pupil, and the light in the pupil. What is external is the container for the inner which lies within it.

The name ‘house’ too is general, since it refers to all that is included within its walls: the rooms, the hall, the courtyard surrounding the rooms, the bedchamber, the store-house. Each of these spaces has a specific function which sets it apart from the rest.

The name ‘almond’ too is general. It includes the outer shell which covers the husk, the kernel, and the oil within the kernel.

The author then comments on the esoteric aspect of this layered physiology:

Know that the higher the knowledge, the more concealed, the more gauarded, the more hidden it is. Laymen, however, use the name ‘heart’ to refer to all its inner spaces.

Then the analogies between the heart, the eye, the house, the holy city of Mecca, the lamp, and the almond are drawn in more detail. Here are some of the statements the author makes:

The chest in relation to the heart is like the white of the eye in relation to the eye, or like the courtyard in relation to the house, or like the container of water in relation to the lamp, or like the outer shell in relation to the almond.

The chest (sadr) is the space into which desires and inclinations enter. This is the domain of the lower self (nafs).

The heart (qalb) lies within the chest, and is like the black of the eye within the white of the eye. This is the abode of the light of faith, humility, piety, love, fear, hope, and content.

The inner heart (fu’ad) is the third station. It is like the pupil of the eye within the black of the eye, or like the kernel within the almond. The fu’ad is the place of Divine knowledge and visions. The inner heart is in the center of the heart, just as the heart is in the center of the chest, like a pearl within a shell.

The kernel of the heart (lubb) is like the light of seeing within the eye, like the light of the lamp within the wick, like the oil concealed within the kernel of the almond.

The external parts protect and cover that which lies within them.

Beyond these there are ever-finer stations, loftier spaces, and more exquisite subtleties. The root of all of this is the light of Unity.

Source: Sara Sviri, The Taste of Hidden Things, Chapter 1 “The Niche of Lights”, pp. 6-7

[Indications from Signs]

The Underlying Structure of the Qur’an

The Qur’an complexifies internally through five phases.

1. SUKUT — silences. The Message is punctuated with breaks, silences, without which the meaning would not be clear.

2. HURUF — letters. The Qur’an in its totality is letters. The means by which they are patterned is listed below. But letters also appear in the isolated form at the beginnings of certain units of the Qur’an. These letters are called al-muqatta’at.

3. KALAM — words. The first level of meanings in the mulk — the outward realm of manifestation. Words have inner structures of their own.

4. AYATS — signs. These constructions of word patterning are the basic meaning clusters of the Book, the second level of meanings in the mulk. They have an inner structure of arrangement — grammar.

5. SURATS — forms. These are the large units united by thematic content. There are 114 surats or 113 which open with the ‘Bismillah’.

Read more: Indications from Signs, by Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi


“… an analogy by which this universal and archetypal sense of Number can be understood. A revolving sphere presents us with the notion of an axis. We think of this axis as an ideal or imaginary line through the sphere. It has no objective existence, yet we cannot help but be convinced of its reality; and to determine anything about the sphere, such as its inclination or its speed of rotation we must refer to this imaginary axis. Number in the enumerative sense corresponds to the measures and movements of the outer surface of the sphere, while the universal aspect of Number is analogous to the immobile, unmanifest, functional principle of its axis.

Let us shift our analogy to the two-dimensional plane. If we take a circle and a square and give the value 1 to the diameter of the circle and also to the side of the square, then the diagonal of the square will always be (and this is an invariable law) an ‘incommensurable’, ‘irrational’ number. It is said that such a number can be carried out to an infinite number of decimal places without ever arriving at a resolution. In the case of the diagonal of the square, this decimal is 1.4142 . . . and is called the square root of 2, or 2. With the circle, if we give the diameter the value 1, the circumference will also always be of the incommensurable type, 3.14159 . . . which we know by the Greek symbol π, or pi.

The principle remains the same in the inversion: if we give the fixed, rational value of 1 to the diagonal of the square and to the circumference of the circle, then the side of the square and the radius of the circle will become of the incommensurable ‘irrational’ type: 1/2 and 1/ π.

It is exactly at this point that quantified mathematics and geometry go their separate ways, because numerically we can never know exactly the diagonal of the square nor the circumference of the circle. Yes, we can round-off after a certain number of decimal places, and treat these cut off numbers like any other number, but we can never reduce them to a quantity. In geometry, however, the diagonal and the circumference, when considered in the context of formal relationship (diagonal to side; circumference to diameter), are absolutely knowable, self-evident realities: 1: 2 and 1: π. Number is considered as a formal relationship, and this type of numerical relationship is called a function. The square root of 2 is the functional number of a square. Pi is the functional number of a circle. Philosophic geometry—and consequently sacred art and architecture—is very much concerned with these ‘irrational’ functions, for the simple reason that they demonstrate graphically a level of experience which is universal and invariable.

The irrational functions (which we will consider rather as supra-rational) are a key opening a door to a higher reality of Number. They demonstrate that Number is above all a relationship; and no matter what quantities are applied to the side and to the diameter the relationship will remain invariable, for in essence this functional aspect of Number is neither large nor small, neither infinite nor finite: it is universal. Thus within the concept of Number there is a definite, finite, particularizing power and also a universal synthesizing power. One may be called the exoteric or external aspect of number, the other the esoteric or inner, functional aspect.”

Source: Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice, pp. 10-12