Friday, December 31, 2010

Who I Am

This family is who I am.
It’s not the only family to be a part of, certainly.
It is not better than any other family.
But it’s my family, and I love them.

This path is who I am.
It’s not the only path.
It is not better than any other path.
But it’s my path, and so I walk it with joy.

This religion is who I am.
It’s not the only religion.
It is not better than any other religion.
But it’s my religion, and so I practice it with reverence.

I am not alone. There are others on this journey.
I have family members, travelling companions, brothers and sisters of the Ummah
who make my life rich, meaningful, and valuable.

Najat knows who he is.
And he knows he is nothing without others.
Allah, in His wisdom, made us for community.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Your Wealth is Not Yours

Stop. Just stop and look at yourself.
Look at what you’re doing, what you’re saying,
what an ungrateful boor you’ve become.

You do not own your home,
your wealth is not yours,
this body does not belong to you.

Your wife is not your property,
your children are not your property.
Your property does not even belong to you,
regardless of what those dusty papers say.

This is Allah’s world.
This is Allah’s land.
These are Allah’s people.

Your wife belongs to Allah, as do your children.
Your own body, loaned to you by Allah’s grace,
will be taken from you one day
and returned to the ground from whence it came.

And yet here you are, strutting like a peacock
and pretending that all you survey is yours.
You are not a wealthy man, but a fool.

Listen to Najat, who owns nothing but wisdom:
You are a wayfarer, a traveler.
You are passing through this world.

You cannot stay.
Any attempt to hold onto any of it will be met with failure,
as your fingers uncurl and turn to dust.

Give glory to Allah, who is a gracious host.
Give praise to Allah, who has lent you comfortable rooms
and provided merry companions for your journey.

Be grateful for His hospitality
and stop pretending that you have a right to any of it.
There is nothing worse than an ungrateful guest.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Allah's Help

Today I am sick and my Beloved offers to make soup until I am better.
I do not want soup.
I want to be well.

I tell Him this and He laughs at me
and offers to fluff my pillow.
He asks me if I need another blanket.

I ask him if perhaps I need another God
who will not be so reluctant to use His power
in a way that will actually be useful.

He says I am cranky
and when my headache goes away
I will feel better and will remember how to be kind.

I want to punch Him in the nose
but I am too weak,
so I lay there thinking of rude retorts.

“If you really loved me,” I say, “you would take this illness from me
and restore me to my power, so that I might
praise you with a whole heart and serve you with vigor.”

He smiles and says, “I don’t need to prove my love for you,
you don’t need to be powerful,
and you don’t serve me with vigor even when you’re well.”

I feel ashamed and realize I’m not fooling anyone.
So I roll in my blankets, and blow at my nose
and drink his tea gratefully.

Listen, Najat knows how frustrating life can be
when we have no control over things
and Allah will do nothing to help us.

My only consolation is in comparing myself
to those who are really suffering.
and have no voice of their own.

So if you want to complain to Allah about something,
if you want to protest His inaction, or His lack of care,
complain for them.

Whining about yourself will get you nowhere.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Down from Heaven

The imams say that the Christians will be chastised
   by Allah on the Day of Judgment
for preaching that the prophet Jesus
—peace be upon him—is Allah in human form.

I say that the Christians err only in saying
that the prophet Jesus alone
is the incarnation of Allah.

For if all this wide world is illusion
except for the Beloved,
then every child is sent from Allah, and is Allah.

For only in Him do we have any ground to stand on
any reality to boast of
any substance one can touch.

There is no light in our eyes but His.
There is no nose to scrunch that is not, ultimately, His nose.
There is no giggle or cry that is not an expression of His Voice.

There is no sin in saying,
“This baby has come down from Heaven,”
for truly, what child hasn’t?

Friday, December 24, 2010


I am not sure what you want from me.
I cannot drink this water for you.
I cannot chew your food.

I cannot relieve myself on your behalf,
nor can I study to your benefit.
My going to the doctor will not make you well.

I am not being cruel,
I am just telling you the truth.
There are things you must do for yourself.

I can pray until the world ends, but you will not benefit by it.
I can intercede with Allah, but it will bring you no closer to Him.
I can scale the heights of mystic awareness
    but it will not enlighten you even a little bit.

I’m sorry if I seem impatient, but this is simply the way it is.
If you want to grow your soul,
you have to do your own hard work.

So when I say, “have you prayed” and you say “no”
what am I to think? Other than
this is not something you really want.

A strong man’s muscles do not grow big in a day,
but result from long hours of effort,
over many weeks, months, and years.

A wise man does not gain his wisdom
because a jinn poured it into his ear as he slept,
but from a lifetime of observation and study.

It is the same with the soul.
Najat knows this is not what you want to hear,
but sometimes it is kind to say the hard thing.

There is no easy way around this,
and no one can do it for you.
If you will not lift, you cannot ascend.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Your Piety

I have seen you pray in the marketplace
at unprescribed times where everyone will see you.
What are you trying to accomplish?

You might gain a reputation for holiness amongst the widows,
But trust me, my friend,
Allah cares nothing for your piety.

Your prayers do not move Him,
Your almsgiving does not impress Him,
Your pilgrimage wins you no merit in Heaven.

I think you are wasting your time.
So, why, you might ask, did the Prophet
—peace be upon him—command us to practice?

Not to win Allah’s favor,
nor to bolster your dubious reputation
amongst the village folk.

We are commanded to pray, give alms, and go to Mecca
for one reason and one reason only:
to batter down the doors of your stubborn pride.

If you use these things to reinforce those doors,
you are lost.

Listen to Najat, for he will tell you something
that the Imams will never admit.
Allah is only impressed by your willingness to be broken.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Islam is About

Yesterday I drank coffee with a man
who said he understood everything
about the Prophet—peace be upon him.

When I asked him to explain the Prophet to me
he told me that the Prophet was all about Paradise
and that nothing on this earth was of any value.

I smiled and drank the man’s coffee
and politely did not inform him
that he was an idiot.

The Prophet—peace be upon him—believed in Heaven,
as assuredly as we all do, for the Revelation is clear on this.
But his concern was not for Heaven.

His concern was for the relentless cycle of bloodshed and revenge
that ravaged his people.
His concern was for the widows and orphans that went hungry
while fat men feasted on oxen and grouse.

His concern was to stop the violence
that unchecked pride wrecks upon a village
and erect in its place a Law answerable to justice and love.

That is what Islam is about.
If you want to chase daydreams about Heaven
that’s your affair. But don’t bring the Prophet into it.

Listen to Najat: Allah is not to be found in the sky
or in the afterlife of your fantasies.
Allah is found when you kiss the dust
and surrender all that you have
to another.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jesus and the Dog

Once when the prophet Jesus—peace be upon him—
was walking on a dusty and deserted road
on his way to an urgent engagement
he came upon a dog, who was sick and nearly lifeless.

Moved with compassion, he touched the animal’s matted fur.
The dog opened one eye and whined weakly,
then opened its mouth and gave his hand one affectionate lick.

The prophet then cradled the animal in his arms,
and carried him all the way to his destination.
When he arrived, the dog had died.

He instructed some youths to bury the beast in a field
with respect and dignity,
and then set off to his appointment.

When the townsfolk heard what had happened,
they asked him, “Why did you carry a dead dog into our village?
Why did you not leave him on the side of the road where you found him?”

As the prophet set out to wash himself, he answered them,
“If I had sat with the dog until he had died, I would have missed my engagement.
If I had simply left him there, he would have died alone.

“Allah commands all people to have compassion upon even the lowest of beasts.
So I picked him up and carried him until he died
so that he would enter paradise with a friend at his side.

“Be at peace, and do not wonder at this.
For surely, if I have done it for this dog,
I would do it for you.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Who Am I?

We are told that Allah has forbidden wine to the faithful
Yet when the Beloved’s own cupbearer brings me a full chalice,
Who am I to refuse?

We are told that Allah requires prayers five times a day.
Yet, if I am so enthralled in my ecstacy, beholding the Beloved in my heart
That I forget to bow toward Mecca, am I at fault?

We are told that we must keep only to our wives,
That any other dalliance is fornication and will lead to Hell.
But when the Beloved beckons me with that come-hither gaze,
Chastity is impossible.

I have tried to be a good Muslim. Really, I have.
But in my heart, I am much more interested
In being a good lover. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What They Do Not Teach

I’ve studied in the madrasahs.
I know what they teach, there.
Admirable stuff, some of it:

I like the theology, I love the rhetoric.
History can be useful, poetry is ecstatic,
although I can take or leave the jurisprudence.

And no imam is worth his weight in hummus
if he doesn’t know the Qu’ran well enough
to produce a competent fatwa.

But it makes me sad to think of all of the
things absolutely necessary for the health of the soul
that they will never hear within those walls.

They do not teach you how to listen
for the mooning cry of the Beloved
heard only late at night when the heart is silent.

They do not teach you how to return Allah’s advances
or how to do the dance of courtship
that draws lovers together in their hearts.

They do not teach you how to roll passionately
in the arms of the Beloved
intermingling body and spirit until two are one.

And as far as Najat is concerned,
these things they do not teach
are all you really need to know about religion.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Faith and Belief

You do not say, “I have faith that I lay with my wife last night.”
You know whether you did or not, and faith does not enter into it.

You do not say, “I believe I have eaten.”
You know whether your belly is growling or if it is satisfied.
What need is there to speak of “belief?”

The religious man is all about “faith” and “belief,”
but I have about as much use for these things as I do bedbugs.

“Faith” and “belief” are a plague upon the Ummah.
“Faith” is playing make believe until something real comes along.
“Belief” is an opinion that you cannot prove,
 yet you will not hesitate to kill to defend.
This is madness.

Listen to Najat:
When Allah, touches your soul, you will know it.
When Allah takes you in a fit of passion, you will know it.
When Allah seizes your spirit and makes you His own, you will know it.

When Allah tenderly caresses your skin,
Covers your mouth with kisses,
and longingly calls your name all night over the desert, you will know it.

Words like “faith” or “belief”
will not suggest themselves to your use
any more than dung will suggest itself for dinner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Promise of Allah

I know you have suffered.
Be at peace.

I know you are angry and confused.
Be still.

I know you are not thinking,
but lashing out in grief and desperation.
Calm your heart.

Listen to the promise of Allah:

The earth has died,
and lies frozen and lifeless.
But life will return to this world.

Your grief has blocked out the sun,
and blinded your spirit.
But color and light will return to your eyes.

Our throats are parched from crying out to Allah,
and the desert has crept into our bellies.
But we will drink once more of salvation,
and have our fill of peace.

If you cannot yet trust Allah, trust Najat.
I have been parched. I have been blind. I have been dead.
I have journeyed to hell on my flea-bitten donkey and returned.
Allah does not leave his friends to die in the dust.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Your fear is not my concern.
Your fear is a wall that needs to be burst through
without regard for your comfort or your feelings.

Sorry to be so harsh, but that’s the way it is.
These things cannot be handled by feathers or soft gloves.
They need hammers and chisels and oxen pulling with all their strength.

Allah’s day is short
and your time here is uncertain
and there is so much to be done.

We have to pull down this whole structure
so that we can begin to build again
and there is no gentle way to do that.

Listen to Najat, my friend, for this is the only kindness you will receive.
Grit your teeth and sieze your courage
from the nafs that threaten to steal it from you.

Demolition is mandatory.
Fear is normal, courage is optional
but highly recommended.

Courage is also a gift from Allah
that is yours for the asking.
Why are you not on your knees yet?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love Doesn't Care

Sometimes Love comes calling
And tells me things that the imams would call heresy.
I try to shut Him up, but it’s no good.

Love doesn’t care.

He goes on and on about how much he loves so-and-so,
even though I know so and so is an infidel
and if I breathe a word of this crazy talk to anyone I’d end up in jail.

Love doesn’t care.

He wants to make love to total strangers and asks me to arrange it
and I have to tell Him that this kind of behavior is frowned upon
by the imams and the widows and even the wives.

Love doesn’t care.

He is careless with His affections
and He doesn’t give a fig who knows it.
I tell Him He is making trouble for me and he waves me away with a laugh.

Love doesn’t care.

I tell Him that there are rules about these things.
I tell Him that the imams have everything down to a science.
I tell Him that society would fall apart if we let Him have His way.

Love doesn’t care.

I swear that He wants to upset people.
I think He wants to turn the village upside down.
I think He actually enjoys scandalizing the faithful.

Listen to Najat, you careless lout:
You can say anything to me, and I’ll hold it safe.
But you say it out there and I cannot be held responsible. 

Have you no regard for you reputation?
Have you no regard for mine?
Have you no shame?

Ah, that’s it.
You really don’t,
do you?

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Today, I am making soup
because Tajit, the new imam
is coughing his head off and rolling on his mat at home.

You might wonder that I, a dervish,
Would be concerned for the imam,
But that is because you don’t understand me.

I love our imams, I really do.
Unlike the widows, though, I don’t believe
They can fly to Jerusalem on winged horses over night.

They are just men, like myself.
They struggle with the same desires,
and wrestle against the same nafs.

They fail just as regularly,
sin just as badly
speak just as foolishly as any of the rest of us.

Let the widows praise them in voices that rival the muezzin,
And let the merchants dismiss them as hypocrites,
but Najat knows the truth about imams:

Sin is a sickness
that sweeps through every village as regularly as rain in winter.
Even the imams catch cold now and again.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Power of Death

Last night I dreampt I was sitting at the fountain
in the middle of the souk watching the people
as they shopped, gossiped, and milled about.

As I watched, a tiger the size of a large man
slunk silently into the midst of the market
wary of eye and licking his lips.

It seemed that no one saw him but me.
Oblivious, people laughed and argued and haggled
all the while the Power of Death padded at their heels.

Listen, my soul, this is how it is:
the Power of Death is always at our heels,
creeping up behind us, as we go about our business
without a thought for our peril.

Najat has seen him now, and knows that this is no dream.
Those jaws are real, and only the goodness of the Beloved
keeps that cat from catching us before our time.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Trick

This is no trick, you know.
Allah does not spend His time contriving
new ways to trip you up.

That is the way of the jinn,
not the way of the Beloved.
For the path that Allah lays out is sincerity itself.

The road to Mecca is straight.
There’s really no way to get lost.
Not even fools can go astray, even if they try.

So if you are tired of chasing your tail
if you are lost and despair of finding your way
if you have received confusing directions

Come with Najat.
I will take you to the road. I will point the way,
and will walk with you until you are sure of it.

Untold millions have walked it before you,
so you cannot miss the trail.
And unless they have all been wrong,
you will find what you seek at its end.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Be quiet, my soul, no need for all this distress.
Yes, it is true, yesterday you were unfaithful.
Allah was not the object of your desire.

Lucky for you, though, Allah does not hold grudges.
This day’s sun is new, and dew has washed clean
the dust from every leaf and stone.

This day I will choose my Love more wisely.
This day I will reserve my affection
for Him who is worthy of it.

We all do this, of course.
Every day we choose whom we will love.
Every day we choose the lips we will touch our own.

Beloved, forgive me.
Your servant Najat is a careless fool.
This day when I prostrate myself toward Mecca
I will not be thinking
of something else.