a community of lovers
The Prophet Muhammad said, “Wisdom is like the truly faithful one’s stray camel; he (she) will recognize it when he (she) finds it.” Within the Way of Islam and the mystical path of Sufism, wisdom is received through the Qur’an (revelation of the “Book of God” conveyed through the heart of the Prophet Muhammad) and the example of how the Prophet, himself, lived, as well as through the “Book of Nature,” which includes the deepest heart of each human being, and especially those who are inclined to open to the illuminating Light of the Divine and have done so throughout human history.
The Prophet Muhammad also encouraged, “Seek knowledge, even unto China.” This is the knowledge of the polishing of the heart – wisdom comes to the awakened heart through contemplating the wonders of the natural world and listening within to the communications of the Divine Reality that inspire the heart of each human being attuned through remembrance. The Qur’an encourages us to travel across this earth, to witness what has happened to earlier civilizations, to see the signs of nature, and also to look within the heart. Continually, life-increasing Truth is being revealed if we pay attention. “We will show them Our signs on the farthest horizon and within themselves until they know the Truth.” (Hadith Qudsi)
As it says in the Qur’an:
Hasn’t the time come for the faithful
that their hearts in all humility
should engage in the remembrance of God
and of the truth which has been revealed,
and that they should not become like those
to whom revelation was given
but whose hearts have hardened
with the passing of time,
so that many among them now rebel against that which is right?
Know that God gives life to the earth after it has been lifeless!
We have indeed made Our signs clear to you
that you might learn wisdom.
[Qur’an, Surah al-Hadid 57:16-17]
The human being was born restless;
but, truly, in the remembrance of God hearts find rest.
[Qur’an, Surah ar-Rad 13:28]
Wise ones throughout the ages have sought to convey the knowing that has illumined them, what they have understood of what it means to be a human being and an integral part of this amazing creation. Repeatedly, community by community, we have been encouraged by these leaders of Light to respect and honor each other from deepest heart to deepest heart.
Even as the prophets before him, the Prophet Muhammad was calling the people around him to wake up, to care for each other and for all of nature as a bestowal of the breath of God to be honored and respected. Through the sharing of the revelation of the Qur’an, hearts were awakened to remember who we are – each a perfect gift of humanness breathed by the Divine. Wisdom in the Islamic tradition comes through the purification of the heart, enabling true perception.
In Remembrance, in recognition of the embrace, of that Infinite Vastness we might call “Allah,” that Infinite Source of Wisdom and Love, we can rectify our thoughts, our hearts, our actions, and be refreshed and assist in the refreshment and rejuvenation of our world. In any moment we have the capacity to be and to act from the deepest vastness of our hearts and minds rather than limiting ourselves with our constructs of affiliations and fences that divide. “Islam,” which means “surrender to the Divine Reality and the peace that comes with that surrender,” began as something vast, an affirmation of witnessing of Truth carried by countless light holders throughout the course of human history.
It is recognized within the Islamic tradition and most spiritual traditions that it is useful to pause periodically throughout the day (and night) to witness the condition of our heart and to open to the Remembrance that refreshes and restores. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him (and upon all the prophets and messengers), continually worked to clear his heart of any cloudiness that might enter. Through the revelation of the Qur’an, guidance toward regular prayer and contemplation, charity, and periodic fasting was affirmed, as it had been through previous revelations, that we human beings might learn to purify our existence of the egoistic inclinations of selfishness, greed, and covetousness to which we may fall prey in our forgetfulness.
Through the Qur’anic Arabic word for “human being,” insan, we are made aware of two major aspects of the human being – that we are forgetful but also capable of the greatest intimacy with the Beloved. It is wise to be aware of this. One of the Prophet’s frequent prayers was:
“O Allah! Grant my soul consciousness of You and purify it. You are the Best to purify. You are the soul’s Compassion and its Master.”
The Messenger said, “If a man’s heart is sound, then his whole body is sound; if his heart is sick, then his whole body is sick.”
Commenting on the words of Allah, Thereupon their hearts became hardened until they were as stones or even harder [Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah 2:74], the Messenger said, “Beware of talking too much without remembrance of Allah, for surely too much talking without remembrance of Allah hardens the heart, and the people furthest away from Allah are those with hardened hearts.”
A beautiful passage of wisdom advice conveyed within the Qur’an is that of the Prophet Luqman, a prophet known for his capacity for healing, to his son:
“O my dear son!” continued Luqman,
“If there were anything the weight of even a mustard-seed,
and it were within a rock or in the heavens or on earth,
God will bring it to light:
for God comprehends the subtlest mysteries and is All-Aware.
O my dear son! Be constant in prayer,
encourage what is just, and stand up against what is wrong,
and hear with patient perseverance whatever comes against you;
witness, this is something upon which is set to one’s heart.
And do not turn away from people with pride
nor walk in insolence on the earth;
for God does not love the arrogant boaster.
And be modest in your bearing and lower your voice;
for without a doubt, the harshest of sounds is the braying of the ass.”
[Quran, Surah Luqman 31:16-19]
As Rumi says, “Don’t make the Jesus of your spirit carry the donkey of your body,”, rather let your body support your spirit. “Let the Mary of your body give birth to the Jesus of your Spirit.” Rather than carrying heavy books around with pride, and being bound by their form, look within and nurture Spirit within the holy vessel of this earthly body. As Rumi also reminds us, “Gratitude is a key to joy,” and “Gratitude is even better than the gift.”
We bestowed this wisdom on Luqmän:
“Be grateful to God.”
Anyone who is grateful does so to the profit of his own soul.
[Quran, Surah Luqman 31:12]
Of the many things for which we are grateful is the capacity for sight that engenders wisdom, for vision both outward and inward (basirah). And in this time of lessening outward light as winter approaches, we turn, even as Muhammad and Mary did, to the opening of the light within the heart. For through that inner vision in contemplation, we come to recognize and appreciate the Ever-Present Vastness and Infinite Loving Compassion of the Divine, so that purified by that awareness we might become of blessing to all the worlds.
Even a small moment of contemplation and reflection might help us to see the Light of Wisdom that is continually flowing:
The Light of Wisdom (Nur ala Nur)
Your Light returns,
bouncing from Your leaves
to my heart
through the window that opens
to Your Vastness.
From where I sit,
I cannot quite see
Your sun rise,
yet through the mirror,
a hidden window opens,
and Your rose
the air, reverberating
with Your silent Song of Love.
It is everywhere,
washing us from head to toe
and beyond our arm’s expanse,
evening out the ripples
of missed beats
of our hearts.
The ocean of Your Love
every day and night—
when we have forgotten
or to look
for Your Sweet Presence,
we rest in Your arms,
All the while, God encompasses them,
without their even being aware of it.
We are reminded
by Your constellations
magnifying Your Glory
for all to see
who keep watch
in the night,
woven in such lustrous patterns,
in realms far beyond
the sight of our eyes,
but known by heart—
that catch Your silent whispers
with the rising of the stars,
with the rising of the moon,
with the rising of the sun:
“Wake up and see Me.”
before the Beauty
of Your Light
rising in the heart,
Your Light that shines eternally
whatever may remain
of that which we might
until we are poured
out again, transfigured
in Your Love
breath by breath.
O You Who Are Light,
Ya Nur ala Nur,
Light upon Light,
Glory be to You,
Ya Rabbil al-Ameen,
Sustainer of All Worlds,
Ya Wasi, Ya Wadud,
O All-Encompassing Love.
Surely, the truest wisdom is born of yearning and love, from that Infinite Source of Love and Generosity. As it says in Surah al-Imran of the Qur’an, And God grants sustenance to whom He/She wills, beyond all reckoning. [Surah al-Imran 3:37] This was the Virgin Mary’s response to Zachariah when he visited her in the sanctuary and found her already provided with food – in the middle of winter, fresh fruit. This verse from the Qur’an, very beloved by Muslims, as is the Virgin Mary, is often inscribed over the mihrab (sanctuary), the alcove orienting the direction of prayer in mosques as a reminder, to all who worship, where the fruits of wisdom may emerge. Say: “Behold, all bounty is in the hand of God; He/She grants it unto whom He/She wills: for God is Infinite, All-Encompassing, All-Knowing.”
~ Shaikha Camille Helminski
First published in The Interfaith Observer
Hadith Qudsi: A communication from the Divine conveyed through the Prophet Muhammad beyond the frame of the Qur’an.
Within the universe of the Qur’an it is understood that “Allah” (God) refers to the Infinite Divine Reality, beyond any gender or description. The Qur’anic translations (italicized passages) included here are from The Light of Dawn, Daily Readings from the Holy Qur’an, selected and rendered by Camille Adams Helminski.
A prayer of the Prophet Muhammad, Remembrance and Prayer, collection by Muhammad al-Ghazali, p. 97.
A saying (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad, Prophetic Traditions of Islam, by Haeri, p. 145 (al-Khisäl, I, 31).
Ibid., p. 101 (Mishkat Hadith collection, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, 53 & 57).
Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnawi II, 451.
Excerpt from The Ninety-Nine Names, Reflections of Beauty and Power, poetic reflections within the Islamic Tradition by Camille Adams Helminski, forthcoming 2017 from Sweet Lady Press. “The Ninety-Nine Names,” or “The Most Beautiful Names,” (Al Asma al-Husna), all the “attributes of perfection,” mentioned in the Qur’an, point to the qualities of the Divine that manifest throughout this creation in all their interplay and assist us in coming to know that Truth of Compassion and Mercy. The root word in Arabic for both Compassion (Rahman) and Mercy (Rahim) is the trilateral root word for “womb,” and all but one of the Surahs or “chapters” of the Qur’an begin with the phrase, In the Name of God, the Infinitely Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful (Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim), encouraging us to recognize how we and all the stories of our lives and that of creation are held within the womb of God’s nurturing Love. Moment by moment the qualities of the Divine sparkle within and all around us to remind us of all the capacities for Wisdom with which we have been instilled.
 All the while, God encompasses them, without their even being aware of it. [Al-Qur’an, Surah al-Buruj, the Constellations, 85:20]
It was in the desert while watching the lights of the sky that a greater Light dawned within the heart of Abraham. See Qur’an, 6: 72-80.
Ya Nur, O You Who Are Light! Ya Nur ala Nur, Light Upon Light! Subhanallah, Ya Rabbil al-Ameen, Glory be to God, Sustainer of All Worlds! Ya Wasi, Ya Wadud, O All-Encompassing One, O Infinitely Loving One!
Qur’an, Surah al-Imran 3:73.