Come time Have a seat Dip your toes Wet your feet On the shores Of Eternity If you could learn To bide me
Take my weary body Dented by the world Shattered by disease Broken by the earth And make it whole again As whole as you decree That I may die a Muslim Your name my final word And I your slave submitting Ya Shāfī Ya Rahīm Take my weary soul Dented by desire Shattered by the whispers Broken by my nafs And make it whole again As whole as whole can be That I may walk in health And follow my Habib To where the fountain flows Ya Shāfī Ya Rahmān
Romancing the Kernel
There’s a pumpkin seed in my mouth. In fact, there are three.
There was a time I used to be conscious of hulling them inside my mouth and extracting the coveted kernels using the apparatus of my tongue and teeth. I don’t think about it so much anymore.
Did I mention I’m driving? I keep my hands on the wheel. I use the tip of my tongue to shelf two of the seeds into what I have come to call the attic, the elastic vestibule between my upper lip and teeth. The basement is empty for now.
The first seed has been deposited at the center of my tongue. It is sitting there for me to taste, to feel, to get to know a little better. A mad twenty-second sequence is about to begin as I court this pepita. Allow me a brief detour to give you a taste of what I believe is the primary component of our complex apparatus.
The human tongue. It comprises eight muscles divided into two groups of four each. The intrinsic muscles change the shape of the tongue while the extrinsic alter its position. Seven of these eight muscles are stimulated by the hypoglossal nerve that supplies the tongue with motor control, while only one is innervated by the vagus nerve, which communicates with the heart and stomach. This is a complex nexus of neural activity.
It follows then that seven eighths of this beautiful musculature are actively employed when we speak, and a smaller fraction when we eat. You may wonder about speaking and eating at the same time. If we think about it, we find that we don’t do that well. Even when we do it well, we’re just doing it concurrently, interleaving moments of articulation and mastication so that at any given time, we’re either talking or eating. When we manage to do them both at the same time, we are said to choke.
Daunted by the crazy complexities of tongue dynamics during speech, I have instead chosen to present the magnificence of this organ in all its muscular splendor by capturing the mechanics of something with which I am quite familiar: hulling a pumpkin seed. That is, without manual assistance.
First, I spend a couple seconds tasting the seed. If I encounter the smallest hint of bitterness, which happens one in a hundred times, I jettison the defective seed into my cup of waste with my tongue immediately dislodging number two from the attic. But if it tastes fine, then the next step is to turn the seed over and lap up as much moisture as possible off the genioglossus, the largest fan-shaped muscle that constitutes the bulk of the tongue. Duly marinated, I next test the seed for crackability, first elongating my tongue to press it up against the inside of my teeth, with the longer edges of the seed lined up between my incisors. If I can’t peel off the hull, I shuttle it over to my right molars and lodge it between the jaws to wield even pressure, whatever it takes to engineer that first crack. There are no crunching motions here. Any irresponsible violence and the kernel and its hull will be mashed together into an indecomposable pulp. We don’t want that.
If it still hasn’t given, then it’s time to swing the seed over to the left molars for the same treatment. All the while my tongue stands by, incessantly expanding, contracting, protruding, retracting through exertions of the superior and inferior longitudinal and transverse muscles. It’s like a live swiss army knife of sorts, switching between pick, press, mallet, scraper, vacuum cleaner, and crane. I run the seed by my incisors again, and this time the hull gives in to the persistent peeling. My tongue collaborates with my gums, squeezing down along the sealed edges to coax the kernel out of the opposite compromised edge, assisted by whichever tooth is down for it. The rest of the seed coat gradually tears away. The green treasure slides out.
In the interest of efficient garbage disposal, I stash the empty husk in the basement and proceed to mash the kernel, thereby awakening the vagal neural pathways. But my tongue knows no rest. I find that the second seed has been fetched from the attic and deposited at the moist center even as I consume the first one with relish. There is a lot happening behind the scenes. Let us exit this tour now and get some air.
We work hard in our quest for pleasure, be it in terms of health, wealth or the more rewarding pursuits of knowledge and understanding, the two brightest mile markers on the road to peace. We can’t afford to be rigid and set in our ways. We must be prepared to collaborate, to exercise intrinsic and extrinsic forces, change shape, expand, contract, twist, reach, exert pressure, and lavish love. The soft must work with the hard to produce whatever marvel of physics we may contrive to extract that prized kernel, preferably whole and untainted by husk parts.
The Arabs call the kernel the lubb. It is the thing worth getting, the thing that matters, the essence that lies at the center. It holds the substance. It is the inner meaning. Men and women urged by the Divine to their highest intellectual calling and their most magnitudinous purpose are addressed as Ulul Albaab, the People of the Kernel.
I will be on the road for fourteen more minutes. That means there is a pumpkin seed in my mouth. In fact, there are three.
Don’t Wait Too Long
There is one God Just ask your heart But only after it may start To beat the drum Of lasting Truth For that my friend Will outlast you The prophets came All men you know They came and went Like shepherds go Each looking over His own flock Reminding we’re Of one-God stock The last of them The Lord’s habīb A Rahmah unto All the worlds He came affirming What his brothers Told their flocks Who came before So listen to your heart my friend It won’t betray you in the end Hear its beat and heed its song There is one God and one alone Don’t wait too long
We Love Them All
We love them all The immobilized uncle Who shouts his response blaring Salaam over the phone His hoarse tones streaking our ears Like syrup on pancakes The uncomplaining voice Of a dear cousin poorly faring Who does more with less How her words of shukr Lend her a regal bearing And the affectionate aunt Who braves crowds thronging At the rawdah swearing She won’t leave till Her eyes have their fill “Aayiram Kangal,” she said something declaring In Tamil verses of delight: “A thousand eyes couldn’t Take in this sight.” Lovers of salaam Lovers of shukr Lovers of the habīb SallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam
Collateral damage has hues Of innocent blood That stains the ivory tower Keep your hands clean To make the tower gleam
A beautiful day Is no less beautiful Because I cry With clouds gathering On my brow Raining tears on a shirt Otherwise dry No, the day remains Beautiful Playing out its purpose For whichever Of God’s creatures Must have its share Of beauty in the air We all know we’ve had ours Smiles and laughter With leftovers after All while fire rains Or earth splits Or lead hits everything In its way Yes, the darkness lifts Slowly On this or the other side Of this azure marble Swimming in space All that is willed Must pass into Grace To bring into view The golden hues Of a shared dawn Enough khalid Stop resisting Bow or be bowed Desisting
Like many, I’ve found that reading from the mushaf hits differently than reciting from memory. Especially on days when I have a lot of dunya swimming around in my head, picking up the mushaf, reciting from it for a few minutes helps clear the cobwebs. It’s like a wash for the senses: for the eyes that read; for the lips, cheek, palate, the entire mouth really that plays stage for my tongue; for the ears that listen to the rivery rush of my recitation; for the hands that feel the containment - four fingers have the cover while thumbs get paper; everything gets something. But then you wonder, what about taste and smell. Well, those senses reap the benefits. They are the ones that make me want to return.
Paraphrasing in verse a brief talk by Shaykh Amin on the third night of Ramadan 1444
What - he asks instructively - Is the primary purpose Of revelation? There are many: Reciting it Teaching it Citing it Preaching it Understanding it Reaching it But the primary remains Reciting it Reciting it Tilawah We’re in Ramadan The month of the Quran In which we recite from it Day and night from it Till our hearts might thrum it But then, fasting Where does that come into it A feast for the soul that’s been to it Depriving ourselves Of food and drink Suppressing impulses beastly To channel the angelic status quo For angels don’t eat nor drink you know And what does all that starvation do To you, struggling khalid? It lightens your soul And the soul that is light Can carry the weight of the Word It’s a heavy Word It just didn’t come Easy on the heart of a man In a cave in Makkah SallAllahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam But what he endured Imbued him with Nūr And by his wasīlah It floats on our breath till It rolls off our tongues Like dew off a petal Like water it flows And here in Ramadan The month of the Quran In which we recite from it Day and night from it Till our hearts might thrum it The more we recite it The lighter the soul And the lighter the soul Recites it some more Believers all over With angelic bearing Reciting in parts So the needle of rahmah Pulling wahy thread May stitch up our Broken hearts We do this as the moon Waxes and wanes Through the end in store When the night comes that measures A thousand months and more But a Nūr so intense Cannot stay disconnected From creatures of Nūr Who crave its sweet nectar So a portal is blown Through the heavens, its gates Fly open to pour out The Nūr on their wings Thus throng countless angels To this planet enveloped By the collective breath Of believers reciting Quran, just reciting Quran, just reciting Quran We’re now in Ramadan The month of the Quran In which we recite from it Day and night from it Till our hearts might thrum it
On Fools and Traps
The fool belittles content And glorifies form The trapped belittle form The trapped fool belittles The free fool writes And that for the paltry price Of goose bumps or victuals Almost everyone else is cool Belittling the fool Or belittling the belittling While the silent rule