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The Heart of the Qur'an
An Introduction to Islamic Spirituality
By Lex Hixon
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 2003 Neil Douglas-Klotz
All rights reserved.
(PREFACE TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION)
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Neither as Christians or Jews, nor simply as intellectually responsible individuals, have members of Western civilization been sensitively educated or even accurately informed about Islam. For more than a thousand years, obvious and subtle prejudices against the way of love and wisdom called Islam have been instilled into European cultures. Even some persons of goodwill who have gained acquaintance with Islam continue to interpret the reverence for the Prophet Muhammad and the global acceptance of his message as the inexplicable survival of the zeal of an ancient desert tribe. This view ignores fourteen centuries of Islamic civilization, burgeoning with artists, scholars, statesmen, philanthropists, scientists, chivalrous warriors, philosophers, saints, and mystics, as well as countless common men and women of devotion and wisdom from almost every nation on the planet.
The coherent world civilization called Islam, founded in the vision of the Qur'an, cannot be regarded simply as the product of individual and national ambition, supported by historical accident. This vast spiritual community, consisting today of more than one billion persons, can only be understood as the result of the holy life of Muhammad. lslam will continue to blossom throughout the future of the planet, awakening human beings to the true nobility of the soul and to the sublimity of its Source, providing a disciplined and harmonious way of life for a large segment of humanity.
The history of Islam is not free from intolerance, injustice, and other chronic distortions of the human spirit. Neither is Christian history free from such distortions. But these sobering facts cannot dim the wonder of twenty centuries of commitment flowing from the inspired life of Jesus, and fourteen centuries of commitment flowing from the inspired life of Muhammad. The power of authentic revelation cannot be understood simply in terms of political and cultural history. There exists one ultimate Source from which the entire universe is harmoniously flowing. This sublime and healing knowledge dawns within the human heart and mind, individually and collectively, through contact with clear channels of truth and love, such as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.
There is no way that I can dispel every false or incomplete impression about Islamic spirituality, which the prospective readers of this book may hold. Instead, I ask you to experiment by temporarily suspending any negative judgments. Simply assume Islam to be among the great wisdom traditions of humanity, all of which are worthy of fundamental respect. This will create an attitude of openness in which the reader can drink from the illuminating fountain of the Holy Qur'an.
All Muslims place the Qur'an at the center of their life, faith, and practice, for every word of this scripture was received by the Prophet Muhammad during the exalted state of consciousness through which the Source of the universe speaks directly to humanity. The revealed words of this Qur'an, when experienced reverently and profoundly, are not relics from the past but exist in a timeless present, communicating as vividly as when they were first uttered. If we are patient and concentrate, we will discover that these words of Allah often refer with mysterious precision to whatever historical or personal situation presents itself to us.
The encounter with the Qur'an as living revelation is the single thread from which all the dimensions of Muslim spiritual life and civilization are woven. After sharing this precious encounter for even a few moments—an experience that the present book attempts to make possible for the general reader of English—we can never again be satisfied with a superficial understanding of the Prophet Muhammad and the rich heritage of Islam. We now feel kinship with the vast spiritual family of devout Muslim men and women that extends throughout the world.
It is my hope that readers of this book will be stimulated to turn or return to various scholarly translations of the Holy Qur'an, and even to the Arabic original, with openness and new inspiration. This is not a treatise about Islam, written from the perspective of another religious tradition or from a supposedly neutral academic standpoint. This is a meditation on the Holy Qur'an that has been generated from within the mystical embrace of Islam. Therefore, Heart of the Koran is an offering to the Muslim world as well as to members of other cultures and traditions who have an intellectual curiosity or a spiritual desire to learn about Islam from within.
The Arabic word Islam simply means "surrender"; Muslims are those who consciously and constantly surrender their lives to the single Source of the universe. This is the practice of living prayer that enables humanity to realize balance, responsibility, freedom, ecstasy, and peace. May we all experience such surrender.CHAPTER 2
SPIRITUAL ADVENTURES: DREAM AND PILGRIMAGE
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Heart of the Koran presents meditations on 991 verses of the Holy Qur'an, the Arabic Book of Books, which records in 6,666 verses the Divine Words spoken by God directly through His beloved servant, Muhammad. I have composed these interpretations of 148 Qur'anic passages to encourage practitioners of other sacred traditions, as well as independent students of culture, to encounter the rich meaning and uplifting beauty that Muslims on all levels of spiritual maturity experience daily as they read, chant, and pray from the Holy Scripture of Islam. A word-for-word translation of the Qur'an in any language cannot begin to suggest the beauty and magnitude of meaning found in the Arabic original by the devout believers, the profound scholars, and the marvelous mystics who have flowered so abundantly throughout the fourteen centuries of Islamic tradition. I have attempted in Heart of the Koran to depart from literal, scholarly English translations and to explore in mystical and poetic language Qur'anic passages that clearly present the central teachings of Islam.
Sheikh Muzaffer, renowned leader of the Halveti-Jerrahi Dervish Order in Istanbul, once remarked to me that there are as many levels of meaning to the Qur'an as there are words, even as there are letters, in the Holy Book. This statement served as a powerful initiation into the mystery of the Qur'an, for from that moment my attitude toward this monumental world scripture began to be transformed. I no longer experienced the text of the Qur'an as a flat, two-dimensional surface, the way I had during graduate study in world religions, but as a multidimensional tapestry of mystical teaching.
The transition from the academic study of religion to the inward experience, or practice, of its living tradition is unique in every individual case. My own journey was not solitary but carefully guided by two powerful Islamic figures, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen from Sri Lanka and Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak from Istanbul. I assimilated subtle truths about Islam not only from these two perfected human beings but also from their Eastern and Western disciples, who form spiritual communities of great purity and intensity that demonstrate esoteric understanding in daily life. Both these Sufi Masters made comments about the manuscript of Heart of the Koran, not primarily through words but through the mysterious gestures common among mystics. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen put the first typescript in his bed, eight years ago, as if to keep it concealed until the right time. Sheikh Muzaffer placed a later version of the manuscript on his head after my meditation on Sura 103 was translated for him, and exclaimed in Turkish, "This is the Holy Qur'an."
THE PRACTICE OF ISLAM
To be Muslim in the universal sense is to be one who longs to turn completely toward the ultimate Source, in Arabic called Allah. Who is and who is not truly Muslim is a secret known only to Allah Most High. No human being can judge another concerning this most intimate experience of affirming and returning to the One Reality. The question of where a person stands along the exalted way of Islam, of whether one practices the five times daily prayer, or even which prophet one follows among the many sent by Allah, can only be a subject for dialogue between the soul and its All-Merciful Lord. There can be no compulsion or persecution in authentic Islam. Whoever affirms and longs to return to the ultimate Source of the universe is the beloved spiritual sister or brother of the true Muslim. Since every soul is a ray from the Divine Light, this longing to turn and to return is the secret essence of each person. Thus all humanity, even all Creation, is Muslim.
Once the universal nature of Islam is understood as the religion natural to the human soul taught by God through prophets sent to every nation in history, we can better appreciate the beauty of the Shariah, the particular holy way of life demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad.
The Shariah is the sharply focused dimension of Islam, where every aspect of spiritual practice and daily life is gracefully choreographed. Every movement of ablution and prayer, performing the pilgrimage, fasting, and giving alms is rich with meaning and power, for it was first made by the Prophet of Allah. Through my close friendship with Sheikh Muzaffer, I have been able to glimpse the union of the two dimensions of Islam—universal, all-embracing, ecstatic love, and the careful precision of a deeply sanctified and morally committed daily life. Sheikh Muzaffer demonstrated the unity of these two modes: the Haqiqah, or way of ultimate truth, and the Shariah, or path of religious discipline.
The most exalted mystical love and knowledge, which perceive the whole universe constantly returning into the Source, and even entirely merged in the Source, can be profoundly expressed through the faithfulness and precision of daily religious disciplines. In the case of historical Islam, this means to live life in detail as the beloved Prophet lived it, as documented by the Holy Qur'an and by the Prophet's own oral tradition. Such harmony between the vision of the all-transcending truth and the humane activity of a dedicated life in society is the richest possible experience. This experience is, in fact, the fullness of being human. Personal and cultural being, the being of the universe, and the Source of Being are thus mysteriously integrated.
Sheikh Muzaffer was known for the radiance of spirit with which he performed the daily prayers of Islam. In the simple, powerful movements of his prostrations, which are the same movements practiced by all Muslims, there shone forth the marvelous correspondence between the open expanse of Divine Light and the responsible earthly life of humanity. One could be awakened to a more profound understanding of Islam simply by seeing Sheikh Muzaffer at prayer in his small shop beneath the grapevines in the booksellers' section of the Istanbul bazaar. In 1985, this Grand Sheikh breathed his last breath, forehead on his prayer carpet in prostration, while making midnight prayers in his home beside the Sea of Marmara.
The practice of the Shariah, or the path of religious discipline, links together the highest saints and the simplest believers from every Islamic culture in the world into a single family. No one can experience the refreshing ablutions and peaceful prayers of Islam without sensing the quiet elation and deep unity shared by this vast spiritual family, far below the surface of cultural tensions. Repeating the Holy Name of Allah as one rinses the hands, mouth, nostrils, face, forearms, and feet three times with cool water in the traditional ablutions before prayer, one feels not only surprising physical refreshment, but also far-reaching purification of thought and emotion.
To face in the direction of the holy city of Mecca, allowing the entire body and mind to flow into the prostrations of Muslim prayer, awakens the sense of plunging directly into the Divine Presence. The physical space before one disappears, and the rich blackness of the Ka'bah, the sacred shrine in Mecca, appears mysteriously to the spiritual sensibility. One is then drawn closer and closer to this imageless and radiant blackness until all forms—one's own body as well as the universe itself—merge into the unfathomable Divine Mystery. This holy mystery is then recognized as the one Power performing the prayers and receiving the prayers, as both the act of praise and that which is being praised. Although not always experienced by the surface mind, this mystic unity is the essence of the Islamic prayers into which the whole being of the Muslim plunges five times every day, not merely to fulfill a ritual requirement but to swim joyfully and peacefully in the ocean of Divine Love. The prayers are the union of Shariah and Haqiqah, the merging of formal religious practice with the mysterious truth of unity that transcends all forms and all traditions. During the course of the five prayer periods every day, each of which is brief but whose cumulative effect pervades life completely, the opening chapter of the Holy Qur'an, the Sura Fatihah, is repeated some forty times. In addition to these daily repetitions, this sura is repeated whenever one passes the tomb of a saint, when giving thanks after a meal, or when seeking the protection of God from various physical or spiritual dangers. Over a thousand times every month, the illuminating energy of this fundamental prayer from the Holy Qur'an is inwardly invoked by the Muslim, until it becomes a constant ringing presence in the deeper regions of awareness.
According to the oral tradition of the Prophet, the entire power of the Qur'an is contained in this brief sura, the chanting of which allows one to participate in the mysterious descent of the Holy Qur'an to earth, the process by which the ultimate Source transmitted Divine Words to humanity through the perfectly human body and mind of the Prophet of Allah. This mystical participation of our entire being in the descent of the Divine Words is what Heart of the Koran attempts to illuminate for English readers in every culture of the modern world.
Early in our friendship, I was sitting with Sheikh Muzaffer one late afternoon in the ancient Bayazit Mosque of Istanbul. It was during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting that commemorates the Prophet's own retreat to the mountain cave where he first experienced the descent of the Qur'an. We were enjoying together the poignant beauty of a hafiz, an Islamic cantor, singing the Holy Qur'an from memory, verses which he had repeated since childhood and which had become as natural to him as his own breathing. Gazing into the great domed space, radiant and peaceful, surrounded by this living revelation in pure sound, I was granted the vision of a translucent emerald mosque, above even the highest heaven. There were no human figures visible, only a vast Qur'an whose letters radiated light and whose pages turned gracefully as it spontaneously chanted itself. Later, the Sheikh confirmed to me that this had been an authentic mystical experience, not simply the product of creative imagination.
The penetration of my awareness into the deeper levels of meaning of the Holy Qur'an—teachings that are confirmed and safeguarded by the initiatory lineages, the mystical Orders of Islam—came initially through an exhilarating but completely natural experience that unfolded one spring morning in a peaceful house near New York City, where a large window overlooks a garden and a river.
This experience occurred one month after I had become the intimate friend of Sheikh Muzaffer. Our first encounter had been extremely powerful—a meeting of mind and heart that lasted for six days and nights. When the Grand Sheikh of the Halveti-Jerrahi Order returned to Istanbul from New York, I began to read the interpretation of the Qur'an by Professor A. J. Arberry and, following the instructions of my Sheikh, to repeat seven hundred times every day the central Islamic affirmation la ilaha illa'llah, signifying: "There is nothing worthy of worship other than the ultimate Source of the universe, whose most holy Arabic name is Allah." According to the mystical tradition of Islam, this affirmation implies that nothing exists apart from Allah, the Most High, and that every being is a ray of light and power from the ever-present Source.
During this period of spiritual preparation, I spent one evening a week with Sheikh Muzaffer's American dervish community, drinking black tea and intensely chanting the Divine Names until dawn. I had been informed that the higher teachings in the contemplative Orders of Islam were expected to come directly through dreams. Looking back at the process, I find the only surprise was that I happened to be awake when the transcendent dream occurred.
WITH THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD IN PARADISE
My soul departs its earthly body and is taken in a waking dream to Paradise. Led by a loving guide, it discovers vast, radiant gardens filled with joyous beings of light, who are engaged in countless forms of whirling, chanting, and silent contemplation.
Excerpted from The Heart of the Qur'an by Lex Hixon. Copyright © 2003 Neil Douglas-Klotz. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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