Firdousi (940-1026)

Hakim Abu ʾl-Qasim Ferdowsi , a scholar of the Golden age of  Islam,  was born in 940 in Tus in Iran. He was a  well known poet and wrote in Farsi. He is best known for his  “Shahnameh” or  “Shahnama”  (The story of kings). It contains 50,000 couplets or two line verses.
Here is a sample of his work.:
 “Listen: this story’s one you ought to know,
You’ll reap the consequence of what you sow.
This fleeting world is not the world where we
Are destined to abide eternally:
And for the sake of an unworthy throne
You let the devil claim you for his own.
I’ve few days left here, I’ve no heart for war,
I cannot strive and struggle any more,
But hear an old man’s words: the heart that’s freed
From gnawing passion and ambitious greed
Looks on kings’ treasures and the dust as one;
The man who sells his brother, as you’ve done,
For this same worthless dust, will never be
Regarded as a child of purity.
The world has seen so many men like you,
And laid them low: there’s nothing you can do
But turn to God; take thought then for the way
You travel, since it leads to Judgment Day.”

Shaikh Saadi (1208-1292) Your body…

A Selection from Bostan of Saadi.

Thy body is a city full of good and bad; Thou art sultan; and wisdom is the prime minister.

Know for sure that the mean, neck­ exalting, In this city are­ false pride and passion and avarice(greed).

Lust and concupiscence(strong sexual desire) are highwaymen(robbers) and pickpockets.

When the sultan displays favor to the bad, How may ease remain for the wise?

Lust and avarice and envy Are like blood in thy veins; and like the soul in thy body.

If these enemies should obtain nurture, They would turn aside their heads from thy order and judgment.

Rumi; a poem(Hamd) from Masnavi

Rumi a  selection(Hamd)*  from Masnavi translated  by prof. R A  Nicholson

“Thou art hidden from us, though the heavens are filled
With Thy Light, which is brighter than sun and moon!
Thou art the Source that causes our rivers to flow.
Thou art hidden in Thy essence, but seen by Thy bounties.
Thou art like the wind, and we like the dust;
The wind is unseen, but the dust is seen by all.
Thou art the Spring, and we the sweet green garden;
Spring is not seen, though its gifts are seen.
Our every motion every moment testifies,
For it proves the presence of the Everlasting God”


* a poem in praise of Allah(God)

Rumi (1207-1273) a short overview

Continuation  of posts introducing a few scholars of the *Golden age of Islam (8th to 13th century), by giving a short overview and a sample of their work.

Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was born in Balkh, Afghanistan in 1207 and died in 1273 and is buried in Konya, Turkey.  Al Ghazali (1065-1111) had a great influence on Rumi. His father Burhan Uddin was also a known scholar. At the age of 34 Rumi had become a well  known scholar and a professor. After  meeting Shams, a Sufi ,he embarked on a spiritual search that lasted 13 years. From 1245 to1261, he wrote fifty thousand versess known as Diwan-Shams e Tabrazi. After 1261 in twelve years he wrote 25,700 verses known as Masnave.

Here is a selection from Masnavi*.

“The Prophet said “Trust in God, yet tie the camel’s leg.’  ‘The worker is the friend of God’; Through trust in Providence neglect not to use means. Go, O fatalists, practise trust with self-exertion, Exert yourself to attain your objects, bit by bit. In order to succeed, strive and exert yourselves; If you strive not for your objects, ye are fools.”

*Masnavi translation by Professor R A Nicholson of Cambridge done during 1925 and 1940  in 6 volumes  called “Masnavi of Rum”. Two other books “Life and times of Jalal Uddin Rumi”  by Dr. Afzal Iqbal and “The Triumphal Sun” by Annemarie Schimmel are a good.  Video lectures and publications of the work of Professor Omid Safi of North Carolina at Chappelle Hill and Professor Timothy Winters of Cambridge University on Rumi  are a must

Omar Khayyam (1040-1134) an overview.

Continuation  of posts introducing a few scholars of the *Golden age of Islam (8th to 13th century), by giving a short overview and a sample of their work
Omar Khayyam (1040-1134) a Mathematician, a philosopher, scholar of Islam  and a Sufi was born in Naishapur, Iran. He Wrote a treatise entitled “Demonstration of Problems of Algebra” (1070) and on the “Triangular array of binomial coefficient known as Pascal’s triangle”. In 1077 he produced another work, “Explanations of the Difficulties in the Postulates of Euclid”, and on “theory of proportions”. He also wrote on religion, music and astronomy.
Contemporaries included Al Bairuni (973-1048) a philosopher and scientist, who calculated the circumference of the earth quite accurately. He wrote widely on topics including Hindus(religion, Medicine,  philosophy etc.). Abu Sina (Avicenna 980-1057) a great physician, a philosopher and a Sufi, wrote on Islam, Philosophy and the famous Canon of Medicine. Al Ghazali (1058-1111) was a philosopher and a great teacher of Islam.
Omar Khayyam is best known for his Rubayats translated by Edward Fitzgerald in the 1880s. Sufi poetry has lot of references  to wine and love, more so in Hafiz(1325–1389) and Omar Khayyam. However their wine did not come from a bottle but a mystical experience.  Love is Love of God (Ishque Allah). Sufis were not on a full time mystical  mode. They were teachers, writers, scientists, Philosophers, Physicians, and scholars of Islam. Not all Sufis were poets and not all scholars of Islam were .


The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two—is gone.


Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai

Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan
(king) after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.


 *Golden age (8th to 13th century) was an age of  enlightenment  and Knowledge.It produced numerous scholars in nearly every field. In addition to Muslims there  were many Christian and Jewish scholars who held high positions and received recognition for their abilities from rulers. For example St John of Damascus a theologian(676-749) worked as a Minister Of Finance for the Caliph in Damascus(the capital was moved to Baghdad in the 8th century by Abbasides). He was the first christian to write a book  on Islam. In spite of his close contacts with Muslims, the book demonstrated his ignorance of the religion. He like Dante treated Islam as a Christian heresy. 
The Muslim ruled areas were a multi religious, multi lingual and multicultural society. Muslim Rulers of that era valued scholarship and invested heavily in education at all levels. Accordin g to some estimates, their funding in higher learning institutions in proportion to their revenue was much higher  than that of advanced countries today. This was an important factor that contributed to the golden age.


What is Nafs

What is Nafs, a brief explanation. Khaliq
Nafs is the self, soul in its unrefined state. It is the lowest dimension of one’s inward existence. The Nafs has 7 main characteristics and each has several other related characteristics and all of them must be overcome. The main 7 are:
1.Greed (Hirs), 2.Envy (Hasad), 3.Lust(Shahwah), 4.Backbiting (Gheebat), 5.Malice(Keena) and includes hate, resentment and anger. 6. uncharitable or ungenerous(Bokhl)*. 7. inflated sense of self (Takabbur).
The struggle to overcome them continues as long as one lives.
The suggested steps to gain control on them and acquire virtues like compassion, forgiveness, patience, truth, justice etc., are described below. However before starting one needs to contemplate on all the 7 and related characteristics and decide the one you will start to work on first. Once you have started be persistent and do not hop to the next until you have gained some control on the previous one. Remember that it is a life time struggle and hence called the major or the real jihad.
Step 1: Reflection: At the end of each day, devote time to evaluate your deeds and compliance of your obligatory duties*. Continue to perform all prayers and try to do more good deeds each day. Develop a consciousness of what is right from the religious perspective and develop awareness of sin and sawab. Use your will power to shun temptations. Continue to do Zikr in your free moments whenever it is possible. You do not need tasbeeh to remember God. You can do it while waiting for a bus or while riding the subway etc. It does not need to be a specific number that you have to count. It can be as many times as time permits. Tasbeeh is good when you have time and space to do it.
Step 2: Self‑conditioning: After getting some self control by observing actions described in step 1 make a commitment to refrain from a habit, for example, backbiting, and continue exercising your will power for several days until you have achieved some control over this habit. During this process add a virtue such as forgiveness. Then proceed to other habits like inflated ego or greed and add a virtue like compassion and work on it for as many days as necessary. At the end of each day thank Allah for the progress and pray that you succeed in your struggle to purge all sinful desires and acquire virtues such as compassion, justice, truth, humility etc. It is a life long process and is a test of your patience and will power. During the process keep up the Zikr, acts of good deeds and Ibadat(prayers and devotion).

What is Sufism or Tasawwuf

What is Sufism or Tasawwuf

Professor Sayyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University and an authority on Sufism, says Sufism or Tasawwuf is the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam. Professor Allan Godlas of the University of Georgia says that Tasawwuf is the inner, mystical, or spiritual dimension of Islam.

An Islamic website says that  Tasawwuf is the rooh (soul) and state of perfection of the Deen (religion). Its function is to purify the heart from anger, malice, hate, jealousy, greed, etc. and to fill it with truth,  justice, compassion, forgiveness, Zikr (remembrance of God) and other virtues.

The way I understand it, Tasawwuf is necessary to build a foundation of our Deen(faith). It requires that we control our ego (Nafs) and get rid of the toxic trash/baggage* from our heart and replace it with compassion, humility, truth, forgiveness, gratitude, justice and other virtues and that will illuminate the heart and bring love of God. The fear of God leads to the love of God. One does not have to join a  Sufi order to do Tasawwuf. . 

*The toxic baggage is anger, hate, resentment malice, greed, jealousy, lust, ostentation, deception, backbiting and slander(gheebat) and other negative emotions.

PS. In Sufi poetry especially of Hafiz and Omar Khayyam there is lot of mention of wine,  intoxication and love. But the wine they mention does not cone from a bottle . It is a  spiritual state one reaches with Ibadat, devotion and Tasawwuf. Love is love of God(ishq e Allah).