patio de los naranjos
sufi islam
In 2003 I found a postcard in a small museum in the town of Cordoba in Southern Spain. This is what I read:
'Hubo un tiempo en que yo rechazaba a mi projimo si su religion no era la mia. Ahora, mi corazon se ha convertido en el receptaculo de todas las formas: es pradera de las gacelas y claustro de monjes cristianos, templo de idolos y Kaaba de perigrinos, tablas de la ley y pliegos del Coran. Porque profeso la religion del Amor y voy adonde quiera que vaya su cabalgadura, pues el Amor es mi credo y mi fe'

My attempt at an English translation goes as follows:
'There was a time when I rejected my neighbour if his religion were not mine. Now my heart has been converted into a receptacle of all its forms: a pasture of gazelles and a cloister of christian monks, a temple of idols and a Kaaba of pilgrims, tablets of the law and pages of the Quran. Because I profess the religion of Love, and I go wherever its caravan leads, as Love is my belief and my faith'

These words were written by a sufi thinker called Ibn 'Arabi, who had lived in Andalucian Spain between the 12th and 13th Centuries CE. The humanity and beauty of his words attracted me, and I began to learn more about this strand of Islamic thought, one that overlaps the distinction between Sunni and Shia, and seems as fresh and challenging to me today as it must have been to people 800 years ago.

What is it all about? Well, here are some fragments to whet your appetite

Some poems and poem fragments

(all these quotations are from 'Rumi; Selected Poems' translated Coleman Barks, Penguin)

Al Hallaj says about God:

"Before" does not outstrip Him,
"after" does not interrupt Him
"of" does not vie with Him for precedence
"from" does not accord with Him
"to" does not join with Him
"in" does not inhabit Him
"when" does not stop Him
"if" does not consult with Him
"over" does not overshadow Him
"under" does not support Him
"opposite" does not face Him
"with" does not press Him
"behind" does not limit Him
"previous" does not displace Him
"after" does not cause Him to pass away
"all" does not unite Him
"is" does not bring Him into being
"is not" does not deprive Him from Being.
Concealment does not veil Him
His pre-existence preceded time,
His being preceded non-being,
His eternity preceded limit.
If you say 'when',
His existing has outstripped time;
If you say 'before', before is after Him;
If you say 'he', 'h' and 'e' are His creation;
If you say 'how', His essence is veiled from description;
If you say 'where', His being preceded space;
If you say 'ipseity',
His ipseity is apart from things.
Other than He cannot
be described by two (opposite) qualities at
one time; yet With Him they do not create opposition.
He is hidden in His manifestation,
manifest in His concealing.
He is outward and inward,
near and far; and in this respect He is
removed beyond the resemblance of creation.
He acts without contact,
instructs without meeting,
guides without pointing.
Desires do not conflict with Him,
thoughts do not mingle with Him:
His essence is without qualification (takyeef),
His action without effort (takleef).

By Arberry, A.J., from The Doctrine of the Sufis, slightly altered by GE

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