Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How to Grow Your Soul

Here you are,
knocking at my door,
drinking my tea
and asking me how to grow your soul.

And yet, when I say you must give your money
to the widow down the alley,
you make excuses.

When I say you must be diligent in your prayers,
You wave it away, and say, “yes of course, I do them.”
But there is no passion in your voice.

When I say you must keep halal,
You roll your eyes as if I were your mother
Telling you to clean up after yourself.

I don’t know why you came to me.
Did you think I was going to tell you
to do something arcane or secret?

There is no secret to growing your soul.
Every Imam knows how to do it.
Every Muslim should.
Every Sufi pretends to, at least.

The prophet did not give us our tradition
Because he had nothing better to do.
His revelation cost him dearly, or have you forgotten?

Do you aspire to be a thief in Allah’s kitchen?
You knocked on my door, so listen to what Najat has to say:

If you want to go on the hajj,
do not think you can do it
carried aloft on the shoulders of servants
without breaking a sweat.

There are no shortcuts to Mecca.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today's Inspiration

Today my inspiration comes
not from the Prophet—peace be upon him—
nor from the flashes of revelation
that often descend upon me
when I am caught up in Allah’s embrace.

Today my inspiration comes
not from my daily prostrations toward Mecca
nor—as it so often does—in sharing with the poor
or contemplating the insights of the dervish poets.

No. Today, I have been inspired
by the fierce regularity of creation
by the steady beat of my blood
by the waxing of the moon
by the dependability of the sun
by the tenacity of springtime.

Here, a mosquito has landed on Najat’s arm.
I know it will bite me, and such knowledge
fills my heart and makes me glad.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


On days that are dark
When windstorms hide the sun
From the eyes of my heart
When Allah feels far and a stranger to me

That’s when my soul says to me,
“get up you worthless clot of blood
and go in search of gratitude.”
You see, I have much experience with wind-storm days
And I know that if I can find enough gratitude
To balance the weight of a grain of sand
I can redeem the day.

On days when I find it
I enshrine it in the Kabaa of my heart
I circle it seven times
and then I go home
restored to my Beloved.

This pilgrimage
Which has been my salvation many times
Can be completed in about the time it takes
To boil an egg.

On days when I nurture my separation
like a sullen child’s pout
I can give no excuse
for not taking the little Hajj.
That is when I must trust that Allah
Will come and search for me
In the sandstorm.

Invariably, when He finds me
He shakes his head and gives me a playful slap.
“You could not be bothered to find a grain of sand,”
He says, with a note of sadness in his throat,
“Even when it is blowing all around you.”

Listen to Najat,
If you cannot see gratitude swirling about you
It is because you are deliberately shutting your eyes,
Stuffing up your ears, and holding closed your nose and mouth.
You can die like that, you know.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spiritual Progress

It sometimes feels that my path towards Allah
is an arduous climb
scrambling for footholds,
precarious and exhausting.

But in truth, I think this is my own imagination at work
because when I pray
it does not seem as though I am speaking from below
but beholding all creation spread out before me
a gift given to me alone by the Ruler of All.

Spiritual progress isn’t made by hauling oneself
hand over hand towards some imagined summit
but allowing oneself to fall
into arms that cannot fail to catch you
because there is no object in all of creation
dearer to Allah than your soul.

If you dismiss everything I have ever said,
hear what Najat says now:
Allah does not want your effort
but only your letting go.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What Allah is Like

If you ask people what Allah is like
it can tell you much about whether they are in a state of submission
or whether they are fighting with all that they have
in quiet ways or loud
to keep Allah safely at a distance.

If a person sees Allah as a blazing sun,
seeing all and having mercy on none,
you can bet this person tries to protect himself, and will often stay indoors.

If a person sees Allah as a father,
always giving advice and protective,
she will try to get away with anything, and hope she isn’t seen.

If a person sees Allah as a light,
piercing all darkness and illuminating the world
he will live in shame of the shadow in his own soul.

If a person sees Allah as a schoolmaster,
expecting studiousness and discipline,
she will be fatigued and resentful.

This is why the Prophet—peace be upon him—
prohibited the use of images.
They are all inadequate, and they invariably lie.

I don’t think Allah is like anything.
Allah is like nothing else in heaven and earth.
If that scares you, you are wise.

You protest: “But you are constantly saying that Allah is like a lover.”
But my friend, if you will remember carefully, you’ll find you are mistaken.
I have never said Allah is like a lover, but that Allah is a lover,
and more: Allah is Love.

Listen to Najat: Don’t try to figure Allah out.
The ninty-nine names* will only lead you astray.
Just give up every image, every idea, every conception.
Submit, prostrate your body and your mind,
and let yourself be loved.

*An Islamic tradition names ninety-nine names, or attributes, of Allah.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Too Much

There have been too many harsh words of late,
too much rushing about, too much to be done
—too much, too much, too much.

This night let soft rain falling on leaves
be the only sound in our ears
This night let the gentle pull of the ground win out.

This night let there be just enough to actually enjoy:
your arm around my belly, pulling me in close,
your breath warming the back of my neck.

This night let there be a word or two whispered every hour,
but only when needed.
Most times, a nuzzle is enough.

I could die this way, and be content.
And when the time comes,
I think I will.

Friday, November 19, 2010

When You Finally Submit

When you finally submit,
when you finally consent to be intimate with the Beloved
and enter into His bedchamber
you share everything that is yours with Him.

You empty from your satchel
all that you have been carrying around:
All of your hurt, your joy,
your anger, your contentments,
your confusion, your loves,
your fears, your hopes.

You lay it all before Him,
discussing each thing,
laughing over the shiny items
crying together over those that are broken.

When you are finished and the silence has quieted your soul
the Beloved takes his turn
and shares everything that is His with you.

He gives to you salvation and strength,
wisdom and comfort
discernment and love
…and that’s just for starters.

When two people become one,
their possessions are united as well.
In this union with the Beloved,
Najat knows who got the better end of the deal.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dangerous Faithfulness

I have left the café tonight
mad as a hornet
having listened for far too long
to proud men boasting about their piety.

I cannot bear to hear another travelogue of the hajj
or of how Allah has blessed them with riches,
while I know for a fact that their own neighbors
went to bed tonight with bellies strangled from want.

They will not heed my warning, however.
If I protest they will mock me and turn me out into the street.
After all, what am I but a foolish dervish?

But because Najat has read the Holy Qur’an,
and has treasured its wisdom in his heart,
he knows this for certain:

Righteousness such as theirs is a growing stockpile of coal
that they will carry with them into Hell.
Even Iblis was banished for his faithfulness.

Translator’s Note: Iblis is the name given to Satan in the Qur’an. When Allah created Adam, he commanded all the angels to bow down and worship the first man. Iblis refused to worship any but Allah, and was cast out for his disobedience. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Shame

I hear your protest, my soul—
the promises you’ve broken, the loves you’ve betrayed
the ragged disappointment you’ve left in your erratic wake.

The Beloved hears you, too
and is deaf to your accusations.
You did what you did
not from pettiness or spite or malevolence,
but from a misdirected desire to be fully embraced.

So hear the wisdom of a deeper voice, now:
Calm yourself, and rest against the bosom of the Beloved.
Let him kiss the top of your head,
and caress your neck as He rocks back and forth.

This night there is no banishment,
no reprimand,
no punishment,
no shame.

Nor shall there be tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Allah Cannot Be Caged

Some people think that if they are diligent in their prayer
and observant in their spiritual practice
that Allah will behave Himself 
and do whatever they ask of Him.

Religion is a good and noble thing
and being observant is helpful indeed
but such people are mistaken if they think 
that Allah is so easily caged or controlled.

Tragedy does not care how religious you are.
A sandstorm will blow over the Sultan's tent 
just as quickly as the herdsman's. 

If you want to be successful, work hard.
If you want to be loved, pray.

Trust Najat on this:
When you are loved, 
hardship is so much easier to bear.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Intimacy of Silence

I am sitting with this person
who doesn’t know how to shut up
and I want to strangle him.

Most people are terrified of silence.
They will chatter on about absolutely nothing
just to avoid it.

It’s not that they love the sound of their own voices,
it’s that they can’t stand the absence,
the quiet, the nothing.

The reason they hate it so, I think,
is that silence is incredibly intimate.
And intimacy scares people.

Listen to Najat:
Words are clothes,
but silence is nakedness.

Prayer is no time for modesty.
If you really want to get close to Allah,
you must not be afraid to get naked with Him.

(Thanks to Dan Prechtel for his help with a tricky bit of translation on this one—JRM)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Allah Needs You

I’m sorry I made you angry.
You were telling me about how things should be
and about how Allah should not allow this and that

and instead of agreeing with you
I smiled.

I meant no offense.
Please don’t leave the cafe,
please don’t deprive us of your company.

We need you at the mosque.
So please, stick around.
Allah needs you to tell Him how things ought to be done.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Not Tonight

You said, “Make love with me”
and I said, “I don’t feel like it tonight”
and now I feel like a heel.

Have you ever said “no” to me?
As far back as I can remember
You have responded to every come-hither look
I ever gave You.

Be patient with me, my Love
and remember the frailty of flesh,
the fickleness of emotion,
and the way every stray breeze
causes my spirit to flicker.

“Not tonight” doesn’t mean “go away”
it means please wait for me to come back.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grow Green

This tender green shoot
fragile and bright
sings to me of your friendship and care.
It is a reflection of my very soul
rooted in the rich soil of the Prophet
—peace be upon him—
and stretching toward the radiance of Your glory.
Watered by prayer
and pollinated by every person who smiles
and says “Salaam,”
it would be a stubborn root indeed
that did not thrive and grow green
in such a place.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Weak Words

My imam and your mother
both seem convinced
that a sufficient quantity of words
can make and sustain their worlds.

My heart goes out to them.
I do not stop them from trying
but words are simply not strong enough
to pull the weight that these kind people require.

They are like hand baskets
in which they are attempting to carry camels.
The baskets always snap and it irritates the camels.
No one likes irritated camels.

Listen to Najat’s words, now:
Stop talking. Trust the silence.
This is what makes the world
and sustains it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Only A Flag

If there were no love in the world,
we might as well just roll over and die.
What meaning is there if there is no Meaning?
What love is there if there is no Love?
What hope is there if there is no Hope?

I have no reality of my own.
I am only a flag,
lifeless until His wind whipped me into some semblance of life.

Najat only knows these things
because Wisdom has given me a crumb
to taste.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't Think You Are Special

Allah is surprisingly undiscriminating
regarding those upon whom He chooses to shower His affection.
Just look at me
—a rogue of suspect reputation and meager means—
and yet I have been bathed in His kisses
and clothed in His everlasting kindness.

Don’t think you are special. You aren’t.
I don’t care you who are
I don’t care what you’ve done
I don’t care who you’ve hurt
or what blasphemies you have uttered.
Nothing in your history could possibly be so notorious
that it would deter His relentless pursuit of your heart.

I have been Allah’s lover for years now
and I can tell you two things about Him with absolute certainty:
no prostitute is more careless with her affections
and no hunter more stubborn in pursuit of his prey.

Listen to Najat: When you realize He has his heart set on you
just give up and surrender to His seduction,
or you will be running from His advances
until you lay down in the grave
with Him.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Five Pillars

The five pillars are not disciplines imposed upon you
by a harsh taskmaster
out of cruelty or spite. Not at all.

Love asks us to proclaim our faith
as a formal answer to a formal question,
“Will you marry me?”

Love asks us to pray five times a day
because any lover longs to express her affection
at least as often.

We give a bit of our plenty to those in need,
because love that is truly received naturally multiplies
and spills out all around.

Love asks us to fast only to remind us
of what it was like before our hearts
were so full.

Love invites us to travel to show us
that He is present with us
everywhere we go.

Listen to Najat: These five practices
are not arduous requirements of our faith.
They are the five fingers on the hand of Love
that draw you in to Allah’s embrace.

Friday, November 5, 2010


On this day when my heart feels like sand
and words fail me
my Love leans in to offer His lips
but mine meet nothing but the air.

You tease! 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Absolute Submission

Ali the Baker is wringing his hands,
agonizing over a decision.
I wonder if he has prayed about it, and ask
“And what does Allah say about this?”
Whereupon he looks at me as if I have turned into hummus.

I find it curious
that so many people profess to be Muslims
who have no actual acquaintance with Allah.
It’s a bit like a man who brags about his diet
but never actually puts anything in his mouth.

Listen to Najat: Allah doesn’t want your allegiance,
He wants your heart. He wants to share in your life.
He wants to cry with you when you grieve,
agonize and discern with you at your crossroads,
celebrate with you when you succeed.

Allah has given us so much,
why do we share so little with Him?
The prophet—peace be upon him—
insisted on absolute submission to Allah.
Do you dare to offer him crumbs?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Real Lovers

I am tired of being henpecked
by well-meaning but wrongheaded people
who seem to think it’s their responsibility
to make sure I am doing my religion “right.”

Apparently, there is a rule book somewhere
that dictates the proper behavior in every situation
lists acceptable language and hints at those words that are prohibited
(for it would never come right out and say them)
and provides a comprehensive guide to not scandalizing the community.

No one has ever been so kind as to ever give me a copy of this book, though.
It is not the Qu’ran, for it actually contains much that these people object to.
It is not the Hadith, for I have read most of them
and I don’t think the Prophet—peace be upon him—
would have passed muster with these folks.

Listen to Najat: if anyone ever did give me such a book,
I think I would use it for kindling.
Religion that is orderly and seemly
is built upon a nostalgia for passion long spent.

Real lovers are always getting into trouble. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Are You Sure About This?

Are you sure about this?
You could pick anyone as your lover.

You could have picked someone who was
much more beautiful than I am
much holier than I am
much more talented
more articulate than I

You could have picked someone
far less likely to put his foot in his mouth
less adept at making stupid mistakes
someone with a lick of sense

You could have picked someone obedient
someone who didn’t argue with you over everything
someone who will do as you ask and not question you
someone decent

So I guess I just don’t get it
—why this interest in me?
You could have done so much better.

Najat says: Sush, dear, be easy.
You’re the only God I know
and the only God I want to know.
Of course I would have picked you.