Lessons from the Sufi Kitchen

Two-thirds of the way through high school I fell under the spell of baking. Every night after finishing my homework I’d drift downstairs to the kitchen and start pulling down flour and sugar and spices from the pantry shelves. Soon the aroma of cinnamon rolls, chocolate chip cookies or banana bread would fill the house At first my parents enjoyed the sweet treats I produced, and were glad to share the bounty with neighbors, co-workers and friends. As time went… Read more

The Heart-Breaking Work of a Dervish

A section of the Wisconsin River winds through towering, 500 million-year-old rock formations composed layer upon layer of honey-coloured sandstone. Called the Upper Dells, the cliffs were cut by ancient glaciers. They’re remnants of a time when the continent was covered in desert. During a boat tour meandering around the imposing cliffs and traversing dazzling river narrows, a few dear friends and I marvelled at the protruding rocks that cradle a several-mile stretch of the river. Our guide described how… Read more

Sacred Space: Making Prayer Beautiful

My childhood memories of the mosque hardly evoke the idea of sacred space. I recall damp basements with mouldy walls (and the occasional mushroom growth), stifling in summer and so cold in winter we could see our breath when we recited the Quran, rocking back and forth vigorously to warm ourselves. At home, the only sacred aspect was the prayer mat, which would be brought out and placed wherever there was space for the quick ritual prayer. As a teenager… Read more

Bold and Extraordinary Living

  Sayyid Abul Hassan Kharaqani, one of the greatest of Sufi masters said, “Make extraordinary and bold efforts on the Path but remember who the doer is.”   What is the significance of Kharaqani’s guidance to us? What could be extraordinary and bold effort on the Path? After several days of reflection, these words resonated in my heart, “Reflect on the end in order that you may see the beginning.”   “We are for Allah and unto Him we return.”[1]… Read more

The Work of Heart

Lately I’ve been seeing hearts everywhere I look. In a magazine I was reading, I was startled by the image of a heart filled with crude oil (it turned out to be an advertisement for the oil and gas industry). Then I saw a news story about the heart of a blue whale being exhibited at a museum in Canada. It is the first of its kind to be displayed this way thanks to a recently refined form of preservation called plastination. It seems to me… Read more

Ramadan with Shams: The Ambush of Love

  This Ramadan, I drank from the wisdom of Shams of Tabriz contained in the wonderful book Rumi’s Sun: The Teachings of Shams of Tabriz.  “Shams” means “Sun” of course, and this year the summer equinox fell in the month of Ramadan; something which felt significant. I have discovered that for Shams the best indication of a sincere spiritual seeker is a sense of need, and I reflected a great deal on God as as-Samad, the Satisfier of All Needs,… Read more

Understanding Ramadan Anew: Taken Apart, Put Back Together Again

Each year we discover new meanings and experiences during Ramadan. It seems that in Ramadan we are more open to be infused by new understandings. What was once merely a stretch of time, a challenging 30 days in which I faced my own attachments and weaknesses, has deepened into a new sense of relationship with Allah. The catalyst for this was my discovery of a Prophetic prayer, known to many Muslim children, but new to me: O God: It is… Read more

Preventing Spiritual Flabbiness: The Benefits of Regular Fasting

Several years ago, one of the most-thoughtful readers of my blog commented on a piece I’d written about the spiritual benefits of fasting throughout the year, rather than solely during the month of Ramadan. In that article, I’d reflected on how it was during the times I’ve fasted regularly on either Mondays or Thursdays (or both), a practice rooted in Prophetic teachings, that I felt more connected with the Divine and in tune with my body. Even on the days… Read more

The Timelessness of Hunger

“O you who have faith, fasting is ordained for you as it has been ordained to those who have come before you that perhaps you will attain God-consciousness” 2:183 I sat in the audience at the end of the Mevlevi Semaa ceremony, listening intently to these words recited by Kani Karaca, one of the great Quranic Reciters of our times and a devoted dervish. The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey had come to Southern California as part of their tour around… Read more

The Feminine Power Supporting the Prophets

I was struck by Jim Garrison and Banafsheh Sayyad’s article last year for the Huffington Post: “Muhammad was a Feminist”. It touched on some interesting viewpoints and received a lot of positive and negative responses. And while the article didn’t go into much detail, it stayed with me and left me with another interesting thought: while you can argue endlessly about whether Muhammad was or wasn’t a feminist (and get further lost in debates about which definition of Feminism you… Read more

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