March 26, 2019

  When the mirror of your heart becomes clear and pure, you’ll behold images which are outside this world. You will see the image and the image-Maker, both the carpet of the spiritual expanse and the One who spreads it. Rumi, Mathnawi: II, 72-3   Spiritual perception is a recurrent theme in our tradition; prominent in Rumi’s Masnavi, it also emerges in the work of other Sufi poets and philosophers such as Yunus Emre. And it’s a theme that has… Read more

March 10, 2019

Note: This article is the third in a series of articles exploring the influence of the great Sufi poets on Leonard Cohen. The first two articles are: “Making Love: Leonard Cohen and the Sufis (Part 1)” “Guests of Love: Leonard Cohen and the Sufis (Part 2)” Much of Cohen’s music, especially in his later years, was about grace. How we don’t deserve it, but it makes its way into our lives anyway. “There is a crack in everything” he sang,… Read more

February 11, 2019

I grew up with an Islam that seemed only about hellfire and damnation. The gardens of heaven did exist somewhere but were mainly reserved for the prophets and saints – certainly not for the average believer who was in a constant state of sin and being reminded about it daily. My parents shouted at me to do my daily prayers or I would go to hell. The imam at the mosque shouted that I had to obey my parents or… Read more

January 19, 2019

We all have psychological blind spots, aspects of our personalities that are hidden from our view. My own tend to boil down to fears that feel too threatening to acknowledge, and so are easier to tuck away. This is why I’m deeply grateful for Sufi practices that bring these distortions into conscious awareness through zikr, the repetition of Divine Attributes. I often linger on the line in the Mevlevi Wird that offers an antidote for approaching my phobias: “Facing all… Read more

January 5, 2019

Sitting in a Quaker meeting recently, it occurred to me that if Muhammad (peace be upon him) were alive today he would feel very comfortable worshipping with these Christian friends. He was, after all, a man who had a daily practice of meditating in silence, and this is exactly what occurs in a Quaker meeting. There are no hellfire sermons and you won’t hear so many sentimental platitudes at a Quaker meeting. The Friends (as Quakers like to be known)… Read more

December 28, 2018

Lately I’ve been haunted by some lines from a poem called “The Testing-Tree”: In a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go Through the dark and deeper dark And not to turn. Working for a humanitarian news service has forced me to learn about distant conflicts and crises. In parallel, I find myself becoming more aware of the injustices faced by marginalized people in my own city and country. Looking at… Read more

December 4, 2018

A transcribed sohbet of Shaikh Kabir, from the forthcoming book The Living Tradition, Discourses on the Sufi Path The Qur’an says: In His causes you ought to strive. The Arabic word jihada could be translated as “strive.” The real jihada, the real spiritual striving, is awakening the energy or force from which we gain a new relationship with the struggle between intention and resistance, between striving and whatever opposes our spiritual striving. The “causes” refer to Divine causes, spiritual matters… Read more

November 16, 2018

Once upon a time, I was terrified of views – distant hills, valleys, woodlands seen from a distance – all would make me feel like I was falling, unanchored and without gravity. As a young child living with my grandmother in a Yorkshire town full of green landscapes and a plethora of rolling hills and valleys, this was particularly difficult. My errands to the local grocery shop were fraught – the road I had to traverse had open views on… Read more

November 6, 2018

Through the tears welling up in my eyes, I looked down at the opening and closing of my hand. First I wrapped my four right fingers over my thumb and pressed them against the centre of my palm into a fist. I examined it for several seconds, then slowly released the fist until my fingers were outstretched. For a few moments more, I gazed at my open hand, before closing it again. After several minutes I started to sync the… Read more

October 23, 2018

Back when I was a punk rock teenager, I learned there was a way to be even more rebellious than shaving your head or tearing holes in your clothes: it was called being “straight edge”. Symbolized by a big black X (often drawn in marker on the back of the hand), kids who were straight edge didn’t drink, do drugs or smoke. Most of them were vegetarian or vegan. Often politically active or at least outspoken, they were always deadly… Read more

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