The question usually arises from people in my immediate network “what is Sufism?” It is a path that must be experienced to develop a sound comprehension. It is a path trod by Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Baha’is, Wiccans, Buddhist, others of various faiths, and those of no faith tradition.
So lets begin at the beginning to answer this question and use a metaphor that most here in the west are familiar with to get a decent description of what is Sufism.
However, I must state that this is my understanding of the path and in no way is a definitive definition of Sufism. Nor is my use of the following metaphor definitive as the only interpretation of the verses it pertains to.
The Bible tells us that in the beginning our parents resided in the Garden of Eden. They were told to eat of everything good in the garden including the Tree of Life. But were warned not to approach the Tree of knowledge of good and evil.
For years I pondered that verse and when I accepted Islam I felt I no longer needed to concern myself with it as the Quran calls it an evil tree. Well if age has taught me anything it’s that the more mature (spiritually) we become the more we can understand those things that eluded us in youth.
The Quran by calling the tree of knowledge of good and evil an evil tree is giving a more direct, less metaphorical, title to this apparition in the garden. So let’s consider the metaphor, the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, to discover why it is an evil tree.
When we consider a certain part of the phrase “knowledge of” we can ask ourselves what does that mean. Well let’s say I have an orange; I look at the orange an admire its color and see that it is appealing. I peel back the skin and a delicate watery pulp like substance appears before my eyes and has an appearance of invitation to taste it. So I bite it and enjoy the succulent fruity taste. Thus I have enough knowledge of the fruit to know I can enjoy it and find it refreshing and good.
However I don’t know anything about the tree that produced it. Nor do I know it’s germination cycle or what climate it takes to produce it. I don’t care as long as I can enjoy it. If I delve into studying the orange then perhaps one day I would have wisdom of the orange and know all of its secrets like nourishment capacity, germination cycle and even why it makes a good cleaning agent.
To complicate matters further another person who has knowledge of oranges may despise them and say the apple is better. Another may like oranges but grade them differently from me. A chemist may say they are horrible to eat but “I know how to produce a good orange cleaner from them.” Yet none of us display a clear wisdom of the Orange.
It is the same with our status of having knowledge of good and evil. We have knowledge, but few can affirm that they have wisdom of good and evil. And as such, in general, we have a multitude of differing and somewhat strong opinions on the nature of good and evil; some, if not most, of which are opposing philosophies and beliefs.
This is the legacy, in brief, of our partaking of the tree “of knowledge” of good and evil. As a planetary community, wisdom of what’s right and wrong/ good and evil continues to elude us. We judge without wisdom.
Jesus addresses this fallacy when he says, ” he who is without sin caste the first stone.” Thus the problem becomes judging each other with our knowledge of good and evil and not judging with wisdom.
Some think that the tree of knowledge granted us awareness . In truth it crippled us with false perceptions derived from our racially (human) immature concepts of what’s right and wrong.
And then there is the Tree of Life which the Divine has asked us to eat from. In the Bible, as well as the Quran, the Divine states that life was breathe into us. This is an intimate act from the Divine; we received the very breath of God!
This is important to understand as it relates to us one fact, that the Divine loved humanity so much in His unconditional way that He breathe self-awareness into us. Self -awareness, which is another way of saying sacred life, that can grow, evolve, and have the capacity to love the Divine and each other. This is represented by the Tree of Life in my use of it as a metaphor.
We are more then simple animals or beast of the field. We were never meant to be ruled by animal instinct or knowledge of good and evil. We were meant to be governed by the Divine Love that God has breathe directly into our very soul.
Love does not judge. Love does not hate. Love does not create laws and rules for itself and others in order to dominate. Love simply says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s with this that Jesus calls us back to the Tree of Life. And once we return he implores us to “…Love God with all your heart and soul…”
This is the path of the Sufi; to not stand in judgement of others, but to partake in the Tree of Life which creates an overwhelming desire to Love the Divine and love what the Divine loves…Humanity. It gives us a heightened sense of compassion.
It is through the practice of meditative remembrance (dhikr) that the Sufi experiences Divine Love and bask in the shade of the Tree of Life.
This is an illustrated guide I made as part of my co-admining work at The Middle Eastern Feminist on Facebook! It will be published there shortly.
The technique that is displayed here is a genuine one used in psychology – I forgot the name and couldn’t find it again so if you know about it, feel free to tell me!
Some could say: “Yes but you can use that technique for instances of harassment other than Islamophobic attacks!”, and my reply is: Sure! Please do so, it also works for other “types” of harassment of a lone person in a public space!!
However I’m focusing on protecting Muslims here, as they have been very specific targets lately, and as a French Middle Eastern woman, I wanted to try and do something to raise awareness on how to help when such things happen before our eyes – that way one cannot say they “didn’t know what to do”!
I’d like to insist on two things:
1) Do not, in any way, interact with the attacker. You must absolutely ignore them and focus entirely on the person being attacked!
2) Please make sure to always respect the wishes of the person you’re helping: whether they want you to leave quickly afterwards, or not! If you’re in a hurry escort them to a place where someone else can take over – call one of their friends, or one of yours, of if they want to, the police. It all depends on how they feel!
For my fellow French-speakers: I will translate it in French and post it on my page as soon as I can 🙂
Please don’t hesitate to share this guide as it could push a lot of people to overcome bystander syndrome!!
Lots of love and stay safe!
PS: I you repost this cartoon of mine on twitter or instagram, please add me in the post so I can see it, with @itsmaeril 🙂
Whether you’re in the U.S. or not, the results of the election can bring up some strong feelings — maybe outrage or depression, maybe elation and shock, maybe contempt for others.
In this crazy emotional time, I urge you to try a compassion practice.
Perhaps, like some people I know, you are angry about the outcome, and can’t believe your fellow Americans would elect the person they elected. Perhaps you’re feeling vindicated, and are unhappy with the way your fellow Americans have steered this country for the last eight years. Perhaps you’re not from the U.S., and you’re feeling scorn for Americans, or confusion, after the results of this election.
Whatever you’re feeling, it’s likely to come from a place of non-understanding. That’s not likely to help our community, locally or globally, nor will it help our own happiness. It can be a transformative practice to practice compassion right now.
The truth is, we each have personally experienced what the other side is going through. The results of the election represent the feelings of millions of other people — they speak in some way for our fellow human beings. We have each felt these emotions: feeling left behind, feeling frustrated, distrusting, powerless, angry, hopeful for change, disliking the change that we see.
Imagine yourself feeling those feelings, one at a time. Feel how difficult they are. Now imagine that someone from the other side is feeling those things.
See if you can feel compassion for a fellow human being for feeling them. Feel a connection to them, because you too have suffered through this difficulty. Feel a connection to all your fellow humans who are going through their difficulties right now, in the U.S. and around the world.
We are connected, even if we have immense differences. We live and work together, we feed each other and depend on each other, we support each other and share ideas, we all are going through immense change and struggle, we have struggles in our lives and feel helpless to change the world at large.
The other “side” might have a different worldview that causes them to vote a different way than you, to want different policies … but underneath, we all have the same tender hearts. And by finding this common ground, we can reconnect to each other in a compassionate way.
Topeka, KS, June 18, 2015:
The issue of violence has become a drastic stain within our community. It is during these impious times the church must come forward to make a stand and to say yes to life, for our Savior in the Gospel recorded by John states,The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 NIV)
Therefore, the AME Churches of Topeka: St. John and St. Mark’s will hold a prayer vigil Friday, June 19 at 6:00 PM at St. John AME Church, 701 SW Topeka Blvd. in Topeka.
We are standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of Mother Emanuel AME Church and the Charleston, SC community at large to pray for healing, comfort and justice in response to this tragedy.
6:00 PM – Prayer Vigil Begins
Originally posted in the Baptist News Global
reprinted here with author’s permission
Growing closer to the ones God made.
By Jason Coker
After the world crumbled to the ground in Nepal, the swami from our local Hindu temple sent the rest of the clergy in town an email — a very simple, yet profound email. He asked all of us to attend a prayer service at the temple for the victims of the earthquake because he wanted all of us to pray together for the thousands of people who lost their lives and livelihoods as well as those who survived and have been irreparably altered. I responded and told him I would participate and invite the congregation I served (Wilton Baptist Church). Other clergy did likewise.
After church services were finished on Sunday, I went to the temple to talk with the swami about what I needed to do at the service. He asked me if I could lead it! He showed me who would be in attendance, he showed me where we would be praying, and he asked if I could function as the host.
Swami BalGopal has only been in our town for several months, and he helped start the Hindu temple. Needless to say, in our sleepy little New England town, a Hindu temple is big news. We’ve had a healthy growth in our Indian population over the last decade, and the population in our town called for their own place of communal worship. When the Evangelical Covenant Church closed a couple years ago, there was a sacred place for a new home. There are shrines to various Gods throughout the temple, and to be honest, it’s a lot to take in for a Baptist — at least this Baptist. What is equally overwhelming is the swami’s genuine hospitality and the generosity of spirit from the Hindu community.
So, I led the prayer service at the Hindu temple. A representative from the Congregational Church was there, representatives from the Sikh community were there, we had a local representative, and our state senator, along with a couple of people from our church — plus, approximately 70 to 100 from the temple (that’s me doing my best to hedge off ministerial exaggeration).
A young man who had survived the earthquake spoke to all of us and thanked us for our prayers. A member of the temple told us that he has lost eight friends and has more who are missing. Many from the temple have lost family members and friends. It was devastating to hear their testimonies as they fought away tears. The president of the temple said how thankful he was for so many non-Hindus, who came to pray with them and share in their mourning. Then we all prayed — Christian prayers, Sikh prayers and Hindu prayers. We closed the service by walking around a large shrine where we had placed our candles to represent our prayers. After the service, the temple fed everyone with one of the most amazing potluck dinners I’ve ever experienced.
I was confronted the next day by a fellow Christian (thankfully not a member in my church). He was distraught to learn that I participated in the service (I did not share that I, in fact, led the service). He could not understand how I could or why I would participate in a prayer service with people who “lived in darkness.” This anxiety came from a deep place in his faith journey, and he is not alone in his anxiety about interfaith services and experiences. He quoted Scriptures that validated his points and asked me for a response. It did not feel like any response that I gave him would help him understand my participation in the event, but I don’t want to just throw him under the proverbial bus. I think he voiced questions that many Christians have about interfaith interaction. These Christians are not alone in their fear of the other. This sort of fear is pervasive in, I dare say, all religious traditions. So, how do we keep the faith in interfaith experiences?
Rather than go into a litany of biblical passages — you know, the obvious ones: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12), “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself” (Phil. 2:3), etc. — I’d rather provide a very human response (and I hope Christian response). I echo what the great preacher/prophet Chuck Poole said at an interfaith service in Jackson, Miss., that was hosted by the large and growing Turkish population there. Paraphrasing the Prophet Poole, “The closer I get to God, the closer I get to all the people God made.”
I find this to be very true in my own faith journey, and for me, this puts the faith in interfaith. I have so much respect for what the swami is doing for the Hindu population in Wilton. If I was ever living in a country where Christianity was a super minority religion, I would only hope to find a Christian community with such dedication and faith. I would hope that the majority religion would respect me/us enough to pray with us and for us — especially if something tragic happened to our loved ones. I would hope that they wouldn’t think that we were living in utter darkness because we were Christians. This is how Jesus affects my thinking! It’s definitely Jesus’s fault that I have respect and compassion for people of other faiths and religions. I don’t know if I’d think this way without his guidance.
The real challenge to my faith, isn’t different religions — not even different denominations. The challenge to me is generously extending this same respect and compassion for those who claim a faith identity that is very close to my own, and yet judging me to hell for what they perceive as my personal heresy. Am I enough of a Christian to love those who refuse to pray with me? If I’m growing closer to God, then am I also growing closer to these people who God also created in God’s very own image? I hope so!
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Please join our community for an opportunity to explore the intersections
of gender identity, gender expression and our religious beliefs. This
educational workshop will help you demystify transgender experiences
and invoke the compassion for diversity we are called to show all godâ€™s
REV. MALCOLM HIMSCHOOT
Dr. Rev. Malcolm Himschoot completed his undergraduate study at Amherst
College and then went on to get his Masters of divinity from lliff School of
Theology in denver, Colorado. Malcolm was ordained into the United Church
of Christ in 2004, serving an inner-city ecumenical ministry in denver.
Presently he serves as Associate Minister for Outreach at plymouth
Congregational Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His work is focused on the
transformation and wholeness of Christian communities across societyâ€™s
dividing lines. Over the course of Malcolmâ€™s final two years in seminary he
took part in filming the documentary Call Me Malcolm where he openly
discussed his transition from female to male along with his personal faith
Church of Topeka
4425 SW 19th St.
Topeka, KS 66604