Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Feminine & God (via Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi)

The following is a condensing of an article on Women and Rumi:

A woman, Rabi'a al-Adawiyya (717-801 A.D.), ...first expressed the relationship with the divine in a language we have come to recognize as ...Sufic by referring to God as the Beloved. Rabi'a was the first human being to speak of the realities of Sufism with a language that anyone could understand. Though she experienced many difficulties in her early years, Rabi'a's starting point was neither a fear of hell nor a desire for paradise, but ONLY LOVE...Her aim was to melt her being in God.

Throughout the centuries, women as well as men have continued to carry the light of this love...Within some Sufi circles, women were integrated with men in ceremonies; in other orders, women gathered in their own circles of remembrance and worshiped apart from men. Some women devoted themselves to Spirit ascetically, apart from society, as Rabi'a did; others chose the role of benefactress and fostered circles of worship and study. Many of the great masters with whom we in the West are familiar had female teachers, students, and spiritual friends who greatly influenced their thought and being...

Ibn Arabi, the great "Pole of Knowledge" (1165-1240 A.D.), tells of time he spent with two elderly women mystics who had a profound influence on him: Shams of Marchena, one of the "sighing ones," and Fatimah of Cordova. Of Fatimah, with whom he spent a great deal of time, he says: "I served as a disciple one of the lovers of God...Fatimah bint Ibn al-Muthanna of Cordova. I served her for several years, she being over ninety-five years of age... She used to play on the tambourine and show great pleasure in it. When I spoke to her about it she answered, 'I take joy in Him Who has turned to me and made me one of His Friends...using me for His own purposes. Who am I that He should choose me among mankind?'...With my own hands I built for her a hut of reeds as high as she, in which she lived until she died. She used to say to me, 'I am your spiritual mother and the light of your earthly mother...

When Bayazid Bestami (d. 874), another well-known master, was asked who his master was, he said it was an old woman whom he had met in the desert. This woman had called him a vain tyrant...Her words gave him spiritual guidance for some time.

Another woman for whom Bestami had great regard was Fatimah Nishapuri (d. 838), of whom he said, "There was no station (on the Way) about which I told her that she had not already undergone." Someone once asked the great Egyptian Sufi master Dho'n-Nun Mesri, "Who, in your opinion, is the highest among the Sufis?" He replied, "A lady in Mecca, called Fatimah Nishapuri...Further pressed to comment on Fatimah, he added, "She is ...my teacher." She once counseled him, "In all your actions, watch that you act with sincerity and in opposition to your lower self...

The wife of the ninth-century Sufi Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi was a mystic in her own right. She used to dream for her husband as well as for herself. Khidr, the mysterious one, would appear to her in her dreams. One night he told her to tell her husband to guard the purity of his house. Concerned that perhaps Khidr was referring to the lack of cleanliness that sometimes occurred because of their young children, she questioned him in her dream. He responded by pointing to his tongue: she was to tell her husband to be mindful of the purity of his speech.

Among the women who followed the Way of Love and Truth, there were some who rejoiced and some who continually wept. Sha'wana, a Persian, was one of those who wept. Men and women gathered around her to hear her songs and discourses. She used to say, "The eyes which are prevented from beholding the Beloved, and yet are desirous of looking upon Him, cannot be fit for that vision without weeping." Sha'wana was not only "blinded by tears of penitence, but dazzled by the radiant glory of the Beloved."

...One of those who rejoiced was Fedha, who was also a married woman. She taught that "joy of heart should be happiness based on what we inwardly sense; therefore we should always strive to rejoice within our heart, till everyone around us also rejoices."

...Though the Qur'an strongly encourages education for women as well as men, women sometimes received fewer opportunities for instruction than men in similar circumstances... women in general around the world have often faced prejudicial treatment because of their gender. Within Islamic society as well as within our own, difficult treatment of women has occurred...Though local cultural overlays...may have increased restrictions on women in various areas, (we) are enjoin(ed to offer) mutual respect and valuation of the human being regardless of sex or social situation. Within Sufism, this...attitude has prevailed.

...we are discovering (today) the work of many Sufi sisters. Among these was Fatimah or Jahan-Ara, the favorite daughter of Shah Jahan, the Mogul emperor of India (1592-1666). Fatimah wrote an account of her initiation called Risala-i Sahibiyya, which is known as a beautiful and erudite exposition of the flowering of Sufism within her heart.

Aisha of Damascus was one of the well-known mystics of the fifteenth century. She wrote a famous commentary of Khwaja 'Abdo'llah Ansari's Stations on the Way (Manazel as-sa'erin) entitled Veiled Hints within the stations of the Saints (Al-esharat al-khafiys fi'l-manazel al-auliya'). Bib Hayati Kermani belonged to a family immersed in the Sufi tradition. Her brother was a shaikh of the Nimatullahi Order, and she became the wife of the master of the order. After her marriage, she composed a divan (collection of poems) that revealed her integration of both the outer and the inner knowledge of Sufism.

Among the Bektashis, an order in which women have always been integrated with men in ceremonies, many women have continued the tradition of composing sacred songs (illahis). In 1987, a songbook entitled Gul Deste ("A Bouquet of Roses") was published in Turkey. It brings together sacred hymns written by women and men of the Bektashi tradition from the nineteenth century to the present.

Sufi women around the world today continue to teach and share their experience personally as well as in written form. In the Sudan, for instance, there continue to be shaikhas (female shaikhs) who are particularly adept in the healing arts. In the Middle East, women continue to mature in many Sufi orders. In Turkey in particular, the teachings continue through women as well as men, perhaps even more so now than in the past because of Ataturk's proscription of the sufi orders early in the century, which drove much of Sufi practice into private homes. One luminous lady, Feriha Ana, carried the Rifai tradition in Istanbul until her recent death; Zeyneb Hatun of Ankara continues to inspire people in Turkey and abroad with her poems and songs.

In central Turkey, the mother of a friend of ours one day heard someone knocking and answered her door. A man stood at her threshold with a message. He had come to ask her to lead a Naqshbandi women's circle. He explained that his shaikh, who lived quite a distance away, had seen her in a dream and had sent him to the place that had been indicated. When she protested that she did not know his shaikh and felt inadequate for such a responsibility, the man replied, "Do not worry. Our shaikh has seen your purity. He says that whenever you have a question you should hold that question in your heart, and in your dreams he will bring you the answer." Thus began her apprenticeship.

Sufi schools spread from the Middle East to Europe long ago, and new waves continue to arrive...A popular strain of Sufism that has been very welcoming of women is the Chishti Order, which was brought to America by Hazrat Inayat Khan. Of the many women involved, Murshida Vera Corda is perhaps the best-known; her work with children in particular has been a great inspiration to many parents.

One branch of Sufism that has become better-known in the West in recent years is the Mevlevi. Within this tradition, which was founded upon the example of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi, women have always been deeply respected, honored, and invited to participate in all aspects of the spiritual path. Rumi's family itself had a long tradition of recognizing the spiritual beauty and wisdom of women. It was his grandmother, the princess of Khorasan, who first lit the spark of inquiry in Rumi's father, Bahaeddin Weled. Under her care, he grew to be the "sultan of the learned" and a great spiritual light in his time. Rumi's mother, Mu'mine Hatun, a devout and saintly lady, was very dear to him. She died shortly after Rumi's own marriage to Gevher Hatun, the daughter of one of Bahaeddin's closest disciples. Gevher Hatun had grown up beside Rumi, listening to his father's discourses. This beautiful woman, who was known to have the heart of an angel, was the mother of Sultan Weled, to whom Rumi's own teacher, Shams-i-tabriz, conveyed many mysteries. In his Conversations (Maqalat), Shams himself stressed the equal capacity of women to be intimate with the Ineffable and to "die before death."

...Within Sufism...women and men have always been respected as equals on the spiritual path. Everyone is expected to establish his or her own direct connection with the divine...

Within Sufism, the language of the Beloved and the recognition of the feminine helps to balance some of the old cultural stereotypes that were sometimes used in expository writing and which the Western media have chosen to highlight. Rumi often speaks beautifully of the feminine, presenting woman as the most perfect example of God's creative power on earth. As he says in the Mathnawi, "Woman is a ray of God. She is not just the earthly beloved; she is creative, not created."

It is precisely this creativity and capacity for love and relationship that suits (the feminine) so well for the Sufi way of opening to relationship with the divine. As we come to recognize the magnificence of the benevolent Source of Life...

...God's mercy and benevolence is always emphasized as being greater than His wrath; the encompassing generosity and nurturance of the divine is the milieu in which we live.

As women, we come from the womb and carry the womb. We give birth from the womb and can find ourselves born into the womb of Being. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is very much revered in Sufism and Islam as an example of one who continually took refuge with the divine and opened to receive divine inspiration within the womb of her being...

Sufism recognizes that committed relationship and family are not contrary to the flowering of spirituality, but rather are wonderful vessels for spiritual ripening.

...The way is opening in our own time for greater recognition of equal partnership. We have much to learn form each other, and male and female need to recognize each other so that we can come to balance within ourselves as well as creating balance outwardly in the world. The male attributes of strength and determination also belong to women; the feminine attributes of receptivity and beauty also belong to men. As we look to the divine in each other, encouraging each other to rise to the fullness of is or her own divine nature, we push against our limitations until they dissolve and a gift unfolds. As we learn to witness the miracle of creation, a time comes when "wheresoever you look, there is the Face of God; everything is perishing except the One Face."

Whether we choose celibacy or committed partnership, whether we are female or male, the same work remains of polishing the mirror of the heart, of being in remembrance moment by moment, breath by breath. Each moment we reaffirm the inner marriage until there is no longer lover or Beloved but only Unity of Being. Little by little, we die to what we thought we were. We are dissolved into Love, and we become love, God willing. As Rabi'a says:

In love, nothing exists between breast and Breast.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
The one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose Presence you are blotted out?
And in whose Being you still exist?
And who lives as a Sign for your journey?

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Stories report that on one occasion Rabi'a was asked, if she hated Satan. Hazrat Rabi'a was said to reply: "My love to God has so possessed me that no place remains for loving or hating any save Him."

I found the above painting and these excerpts today, 31st December 2010 here
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See also the Transcript of Radio Program | The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi -
Ms. Fatemah Keshavarz - an Iranian Rumi scholar - who although admitting that Rumi wasn't a "feminist" as such, used feminine metaphors and expressions at times in his poetry. Ms. Keshavarz said: "I think, if anything, {Rumi's) vision is that all humanity is pregnant with God." She was interviewed on an award-winning episode of On Being / formerly Speaking of Faith which has been rebroadcast recently.

3 comments:

Urooj Malik said...

Connie, thank you so much for this beautiful knowledge about the sufism and women in sufism, I must say you have chosen a wonderful thing to bring into knowledge of your readers.

For me, I feel it will be very important to know as I have similar kind of thoughts which I will deliver in my novel, inshAllah.

Akhtar Wasim Dar said...

Lovely, and I would say this is now the century of women. Man has always been in forefront when it came to spirituality, because women was considered as one who was responsible for the first sin and hence the fall, so she was not fit for spiritual pursuits. But women have proved that they can nurture, educate and brought up great spiritual healers, so they have reclaimed their place in the spiritual hierarchy .

Connie L. Nash said...

Dear Dear Friend, Urooj and Dar Sahib:

Although you both know and resonate so much more regarding Sufism and related traditions, Thank YOU so much for your appreciation of my small in-roads.

You must know by now how much joy and depth I find in each of your writings and want to encourage these in any way possible. Urooj, your writing is unbelievable for one so young and beyond. Keep up the great work which I will keep reading.

Dar Sahib you know how gifted I consider you and how excited I am about your book in process and the theme. :)

You are both LARGELY the reason I am continuing to pursue such spiritual lines and learning.

Have a BEAUTIFUL NEW YEAR 2011...

How can you help but not since you are WHO you are?