a community of lovers
A talk offered by Shaikha Camille Helminski at the 2018 Festival of Faiths: “Sacred Insight, Feminine Wisdom.” First published on sufism.org.
Bismillah arRahman arRahim
We begin in the Name of God, and we ask the help of that One, to listen to the moment and to speak what might be needed.
The reception of the Revelation of the Qur’an, the basis of the Way of Islam (and its mystical path of Sufism), through the heart of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, was a profound act of listening.
Within the Qur’anic text, specifically Ninety-Nine Names of God are mentioned. Among them, is As Sami, The One Who is All-Hearing. As we open to the Presence of that One Who Is All-Hearing, here among us, As Sami, we can awaken that quality, that capacity within ourselves to hear, to listen. With the breath, calling upon As Sami, O You Who Are All-Hearing, deep within us, listening to the voice of our Beloved Sustainer within everything, listening for guidance, listening into that Presence.
It was a woman, who lived in what is now Iraq, about a century after the opening of Muhammad’s prophecy, Rabia al Adawiyye, who, within the Sufi tradition, is recognized as the first to speak of God as “the Beloved.” She gave her devoted attention to the Most Beloved Creator of All That Is. She said:
Whenever I listen to the voice of anything You have made,
the rustling of the leaves,
the trickling of water,
the cries of the birds,
I hear it saying, ‘God is One.’
Nothing can be compared with God.
Reflecting this Oneness, the Prophet Muhammad said, “Sufficient for you among the women of the world are Maryam the daughter of ‘Imraan, Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid, Faatimah bint Muhammad, and Aasiyah the wife of Pharaoh.”1 Of course there have been many other strong and wondrous women, among Muhammad’s own community, throughout our human history, yet he chose to indicate these four women as signs of guidance for us. This one saying could be the basis for an extended inquiry and meditation. All of these women had a deep capacity to listen and to act in consonance with what they heard.
He includes Khadijah, his first, beloved wife, a businesswoman who immediately recognized the Truth pouring through the heart of Muhammad.
And his beloved daughter, Fatimah, who also stood so stalwartly by him, deeply opening to Truth also through her own heart so that she was illumined by it and known as the Most Pure, the Most Radiant, of the first to comprehend the mystical aspects of the faith, some would say, the first Sufi, and the mother of all his descendents.
And Asiyah, an aristocrat married to a powerful ruler who through her inner listening and strength was able to stand up for Truth, for Love of a child, Moses, one who listened, and later understood to take off his shoes, to shed constructs of outer life to touch the earth and hear the voice of his Lord, and was called “Friend.”
Asiyah turned away from the predominant status quo, realizing that her husband, the great ruler, was ill-advised, and that rather, her adopted son, from an underprivileged class, a much maligned people, spoke the truth. She stood with Truth as she understood and felt it in her heart.
And Blessed Maryam, whose story is expressed so beautifully in Surah Maryam, and in other verses in the Qur’an, in her purity and complete receptivity and devotion, gave birth to and nurtured Jesus, of Pure Spirit.
As the Sufi poet Rumi says, “Let the Mary of your body give birth to the Jesus of your Spirit.”
Rumi’s whole masterwork of 26,000 lines of poetry begins with the word: “Listen!” We too, in order to hear, in order to cause the Water of blessing to flow, must open our hearts with yearning. As Rumi reminds us, “it is the cry of the babe that causes the milk in the mother’s breast to flow” — he encourages us to increase our thirst! When we are sensitive to our need, when we open our hearts in yearning, the Divine responds. As it is conveyed in the Qur’an, Call upon Me, I will answer. [40:60]
Within the Arabic language, the word for self, nafs, is feminine in designation, an indication of the stance of the self, the soul, in relation to our Creator—when we are in alignment, we are open in profound receptivity, open to “the creative Word”: “Be!” And it is. [36: 82]
And so, as it is expressed in the Qur’an, We have heard and we pay heed. [5:7]
As another Sufi woman of Turkey, Zeynep Hatun expressed it:
I am a fountain,
You are my water.
I flow from You to You.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun, We come from God and to Him/Her we shall return. [2:156]
In any moment, we can pause and listen, and through that listening, realign. We can listen to nature, and to the hearts of each other, and through it all, to the voice of the Beloved, continually communicating with us.
In this moment we offer a poem, from a recent collection of reflections with the “Ninety-Nine Names” of the Beloved, in resonance with As Sami, the All Hearing One, and sealed with a few verses from the Qur’an.
As-Sami, The All-Hearing One
Ya Sami, O You Who Are All Hearing, Ya Basir, O You Who Are All Seeing
Ahh! The moon is full!
No wonder I can’t sleep.
for bringing me
into its radiance.
The cicadas drone in celebration,
and tree frogs “ribbit” in response.
This week I learned
it really matters
who tunes your piano,
what they are hearing,
and how their heart is tuned.
of our own narratives
we have whispered.
What is the story
we are telling ourselves?
Is it Yours,
O You who hear all things
when we are out of tune?
Rectify us in Your truest sound.
Realign our voices
and all our corresponding movements
into songs of celebration,
of service, and of love!
Ahh! Lady, sweet Lady
who listened so well,
you brought forth new being
within such radiance—
the sound of the Beloved,
whispered through an angel,
became a blessed son
whose word opened hearts
and still does.
May we, also, listen with such care
to the songs
that You are singing
in our lives,
in our deepest hearts,
O Sami, You Who Are All Hearing,
the Most Beautiful Sound of all sounds.
Remain conscious of God: for, truly, God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing!
And when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the Temple,
[they prayed:]“O our Sustainer! Accept this from us:
for, truly, You alone are All Hearing, All Knowing!
O our Sustainer! Bring our selves into surrender to You,
and make of our offspring a community that shall surrender itself to You,
and show us our ways of worship, and accept our repentance:
for, truly, You alone are the Acceptor of Repentance, the Infinitely Merciful!”
These are messages of a Book
clear in itself and clearly showing the truth.
We convey to you some of the story of Moses and Pharaoh,
setting forth the truth for people who will have faith.
Limitless in His/Her glory
is He/She who transported His/Her servant by night
from the Inviolable House of Worship [in Mecca]
to the Remote House of Worship [in Jerusalem] –
the environs of which We had blessed—
so that We might show him some of Our signs:
for, truly, He/She alone is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.
And even so We entrusted revelation unto Moses,
and made it a guidance for the children of Israel.
Lo! The angels said: “O Mary! Behold,
God sends you the glad tiding, through a word from Him,
[of a son] who shall become known as the Christ Jesus,
son of Mary, of great honor in this world
and in the life to come, and of those who are drawn near to God.
Always remember the blessings which God has bestowed on you,
and the solemn pledge by which He/She bound you to Himself/Herself
when you said, “We have heard, and we pay heed.”
And so, remain conscious of God:
truly, God has full knowledge of what is within hearts.