Ruminations of a Sufi Master

Sufism is a means of focussing away from the commonplace, and the temporal, and transcending oneself as a means of encountering unity with God.

The absolute otherness of God is central to the Sufi approach. While humankind may perceive, comprehend and aspire to the attributes of God; such as Justice, Truth, Love and Mercy, the Essence of God is unknowable through the usual human means of knowing. This unknowability is the realm which Sufis endeavour to inhabit; the way of mystery and wonder. For Sufis the material world is a manifestation of God therefore all nature is imbued with the Divine while having its own temporal existence. God is the Prime Mover, the Progenitor and yet transcends space and time.  This is far from being a cause for humanity feeling abandoned by God in creation, rather a spur to search for the means by which we may glimpse the essence of the Creator through devotional practice, study and opening the heart and mind to a higher level of enlightenment. Such a life committed to seeking God is of necessity all-consuming. Religious language, practice and ethics draw us near to the Divine but the way of the Sufi is beyond traditional confessional faith structures and institutions; it is the way of the mystic, the spiritual pilgrim who is longing and striving to experience God is a way beyond knowing.

This God, who is the beginning and the end of all existence, is also the author of all existence so we, as humankind, are ourselves manifestations of God. Such an elevated view of humanity is a source of hope for a human universalism; if all could recognise our essential oneness with each other all ethnic, gender, religious or ideological differences would melt away. The Sufi is in this sense the vanguard of a New Humanity.

All world religions are subject to the limitations of their projections of God and God’s purposes. These projections are often based upon fear rather than love hence the tendency to binary opposites: Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil, Sinner and Saved etc.  These are well meant but are misconceptions; they detract from the Ultimate search for God and leave us in half-way state of comprehension and understanding. The Sufi pursues the essence of God and conceives it obliquely through the Beautiful and the Good; all that is life giving and life enhancing in the world. The Sufi is a practitioner of love in this world as their identity rests not upon any human esteem but on the deep understanding that they are loved by God in a reciprocal relationship of lover and loved.

“Soul, if you want to learn secrets, your heart must forget about shame and dignity. You are God’s lover…” Rumi

The above reflections on Sufism were penned by Rev Larry Wright, Convenor of the Religious Affairs Advisory Group, following an evening in discussion with Ayatollah Safavi, a man who radiates the calm, intelligent, enlightened personae of a dedicated and seasoned devotee. As a Sufi master he commands the respect and admiration not only of his followers but of people of good will from other faiths and none. As an Iranian he embodies the traditions of Persian and Shia Islamic culture with their poetic imagination and natural wonder.

Safavi shared his discourse  on the Sufi approach to The Divine, the Ultimate Cause;  God for some, Allah for others.  He began with a meditative chant or mantra which is part of his daily practice for centring his being and mind upon God.  Such practice is indication of the highly prayerful and mystical nature of Sufism.

 

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بناء عالم أفضل

dap_20160526_induction_0013-xlالخنجر والرصاصة والقنبلة، لا يعرفون الأخلاق، غايتهم القتل وإنزال الضرر. ولكن من يملكون هذه الأسلحة، هم كائنات أخلاقية اختارت العنف. يستمدون هذا الاختيار من معتقداتهم، ومعتقداتهم مستمدة من القضايا او من الايديولوجيات التي اختاروها، او من الاثنين معاً.

إذا كان اختيارهم للعنف مستمد من التطرف الايديولوجي، ففي هذه الحالة هم يرون ان العالم منغلق وغير متسامح، بل ويجب ان يكون كذلك. فعليه، انه من الطبيعي بالنسبة لهم ان لا يبقون ولا يذرون كل من يقف في طريقهم لتحقيق غاياتهم. لذلك هم يتبنون مظهر القوة التي لا تقاوم.

ولكن، ماذا سيحدث عند تصادم القوة التي لا تقاوم بمجسم ثابت؟ في الواقع، لا يوجد شيء في الطبيعة لا يقاوم بشكل مطلق او ثابت بشكل مطلق. في واقع الصراعات على السلطة، الفعل وردة الفعل يحدثان بدرجات متفاوتة، وكلاهما يعكس الجانب الأسوأ من الآخر.

هل انا أصف داعش؟ قد اكون أصف نموذج كرومويل للجيش الانجليزي في فترة ما بعد ١٦٤٠ ميلادي. او قد اكون أصف الأنظمة الفاشية الأوروبية في الفترة ما بين ١٩٣٠ – ١٩٥٠ ميلادي. كلهم كانوا يعتقدون بأنهم بقوة لا تقاوم، ولكنهم كلهم قد هُزٍموا في نهاية المطاف. إرثهم الذي خلفوه كان ومازال هو العنف.

مقولة أفلاطون الشهرية، “وحدهم الأموات شهدوا نهاية الحرب”.

العنف يولد العنف، وأشقائه هم: العقاب والثأر والهجوم المضاد. الحكومات، بل وحتى الأفراد، يتبنون هؤلاء الأشقاء ويطلقونهم كيفما شاءوا وقتما شاءوا. ولكي نكسر دائرة العنف، يجب علينا ان نقاوم قوى العنف والانتقام من جذورها.

كل الحروب والصراعات تنتهي، وذلك يكون عن طريق إنهاك الأطراف المتنازعة او استسلامها او التدخل الخارجي او العملية الدبلوماسية. ولكن نهاية الصراع نادراً ما يكون بداية السلام المستدام، غالباً ما يكون توقف القتال مجرد انطباع بالسلام، وفي حين انه مجرد هدنة مستقبلها غير واضح.

لسنوات عديدة، لَبٍسَت امريكا وبريطانيا وحلفاؤهم عباءة الأخلاق التدخلية بالشؤون العالمية. وقد رأى الكثيرون ان هذه السياسة جاءت متأخرة جداً او على الأسوأ انها كارثة لكل من يعنيهم الأمر. ولأول مرة في التاريخ المعاصر، نتيجة للبس عباءة الأخلاق الغير صادقة في جوهرها، قد جلبت السياسة التدخلية العديد من ضحاياها الى شواطئ وشوارع الدول المتبنية لهذه السياسة. معاناة الصدمة واليأس والجوع والجرح الجسدي والنفسي لهؤلاء الضحايا تمثل خسارة للغرب، بقدر الخسارة التي يمثلها قتلى وجرحى جنود الغرب وحلفاؤه في الحروب الأخيرة.

وهناك رد فعل عنيف جديد يتجسد في عودة القوى السياسية الرجعية الشعبوية في امريكا واوروبا واماكن اخرى. الشعارات الشعبوية التي ينادون بها تنبذ ما يسمى بالقيم الليبرالية والديموقراطية التي هيمنت على الخطاب الدولي منذ عام ١٩٨٩ ميلادي. هذه القوى الجديد غير متحيزة الى، او تعارض، فكرة الأخلاق الدولية. وسيستخدمون العنف (الخطابي والفعلي) لتأمين حدود بلادهم، وسيولدون عقلية الحصار الوطني، وسيمارسون العزلة عن التدخل في الشأن العالمي، بدلاً من محاولة القيام بالتدخل بشكل أفضل.

لقد تضائل النفوذ الغربي في بلاد الشام، بل وينظر اليه كأمر غير مرغوب فيه. وفي الوقت حينه، قد ملئت قوى إقليمية أخرى الفراغ، ولكن هذه القوى تملك أجندة تاريخية وايديولوجية معادية للغرب. وفي الوقت نفسه، يشهد الغرب افلاسا اقتصاديا؛ فإن منظمة الأمم المتحدة تواجه نقص في الدعم المالي وفي حالة من التحفظ على مجلس الأمن للأمم المتحدة، والنظام الأمريكي الجديد عديم الخبرة ويفتقر الى المصداقية، واوروبا تتفكك كمشروع سياسي. يبدو انه قد تم حصر التدخل الغربي الى جانبين: ضربات عسكرية مستهدفة في بلاد الشام ومن جانب أخر الى القلق بشأن الاتفاقات التجارية في مناطق أخرى. يبدو ان الغرب يعاني من الجمود او التعطيل الأخلاقي.

إذاً من أين ستنشأ طاقة جديدة للتوفيق والتقارب العالمي؟ هل من روسيا او الصين او تركيا او الهند؟ هل نحن في فصل الشتاء الدبلوماسي؟

(لا خير في كثير من نجواهم إلا من أمر بصدقة أو معروف أو إصلاح بين الناس ومن يفعل ذلك ابتغاء مرضات الله فسوف نؤتيه أجرا عظيما) – الآية ١١٤ سورة النساء.

(طوبى لصانعي السلام) – انجيل متى ٩:٥

اذا كان الأجر العظيم لمن يصلحون بين الناس فنحن نحتاج ثورة من صانعي السلام وجيش من المصلحين. (اراميا فاونديشن؟ نكست سينتوري فاونديشن؟ انيشيتف اوف شينج؟) نحتاج تحالف بين الذين يعملون بلا كلل ولا ملل ويضحون من أجل السلام؛ مطالبين بتجديد السياسات الخارجية القائمة على الأخلاق، وتجديد النزعة الدولية، ومد اليد الى الأعداء ووهب شيئا من النور الى أظلم الاماكن.

كشخص متديّن، انا اتفهم نقاط ضعف التديّن، ولكن في الوقت ذاته اعرف قدرة الدين على الإلهام وتغيير حياة الكثيرين وإضفاء الرؤية الطموحة والأمل للبشرية في أيام الظلام.

يجب ان يلعب الايمان والتدين دورا هاما في سوريا والعراق في مرحلة ما بعد الصراع. ستحتاج سوريا والعراق الى كل النوايا الحسنة التي يمكن حشدها، والى مشروع اقتصادي واجتماعي غير مسبوق مثل مشروع مارشال. هذه تكلفة ذنوب الغرب وعناد الشرق وعدم ترابط الشرق الاوسط.

في إطار اي خطط مستقبلية للمناطق التي مزقتها الحرب في بلاد الشام، يجب ان تحظى القدس على مكانها في هذه الخطط، تلك المدينة في أعلى التل، التي تمثل نقطة يتجه اليها الكثير من البشر الذين يتوقون للرب.

نتمنى ان نجد الأمل والرؤية والعزم لبناء مستقبل حيث يرى الأحياء فيه نهاية الحرب.

 

Indonesia’s religious intolerance increasing

Indonesia used to be one of the most religiously moderate countries in the world. With just over 207 million Indonesians identifying themselves as Muslim, the country hosts the world’s largest Muslim community. However, in recent years things have changed. And the Indonesian government has failed to protect its Christians, Shia and Ahmadiyya, from an increase in levels of harassment.

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Protests against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Christian governor of Jakarta, 31 March 2017.

The majority of Indonesian Muslims remain moderate and are appalled by the increasing religious divisions facing their country.

However Indonesia’s mainstream Muslim population struggles to speak out against members of their own community who persecute minorities. And the government that takes little interest in intervention.

Indonesia’s moderate Muslim population must stand up for Indonesia’s minority groups. Indonesians must find it in their hearts to express compassion for those who are becoming the victims of intolerance.

Indonesia’s rising religious intolerance towards minorities

For many years, Indonesia has been known as one of the most religiously moderate countries in the world. With just over 207 million Indonesians identifying themselves as Muslim, the country plays host to the largest proportion of the world’s Muslim community. However, in more recent years the country has been under attack for a supposed increase in religious intolerance. In the past two decades the Indonesian government has failed to protect its religious minorities, more specifically Christians, Shia and Ahmadiyya, against an increase in levels of harassment.

It is wrong and unjust to forget that a vast proportion of Indonesia’s Muslim population do not reject the views and beliefs of other religions. The majority of Indonesian Muslims remain moderate and are appalled by the increasing religious divisions facing their country.

There are a number of reasons why intolerance towards minorities may be on the rise. These include the fact that Indonesia’s Muslim population struggles to speak out against members of their own community who promote the persecution of minorities. There is also a growing level of radicalisation within the Muslim community which contributes to rising levels of intolerance when combined with a government that lacks adequate intervention and prevention.

Globally there is a growing trend towards an era of nationalism combined with a strong sense of public disenfranchisement. While people individually have a right to feel frustrated towards the government if they believe that they are being unrepresented, it is unacceptable and completely unjust to persecute or alienate other sectors of society. In the case of Indonesia, it is necessary for the vast majority of its moderate Muslim population to speak out in response to radical Islamic movements and stand up for minority groups that have been affected. Freedom of religion is one of the main pillars of any society, and the vast numbers of peaceful Islamic members of Indonesian society must advocate the most basic principles of compassion to those who are gradually becoming more intolerant.

Was the British involvement in Afghanistan in a just war?

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Saint Thomas Aquinas built upon Saint Augustine’s Just War theory with ideas of just peace or “right intention”

Britain has failed to create a just peace in Afghanistan, negating previous arguments that presented Afghanistan as a just war. Jus ad bellum and jus in bello are important for a war to be just, but jus post bellum is arguably the most important phase because it will have the most long-lasting effect. Any nation that invades another, no matter the reason, is morally responsible for the reasons for going to war, their conduct/waging of the war, and assuring a just peace at the end of that war. By joining the coalition that invaded Afghanistan in 2001 Britain took on a moral responsibility to that nation to ensure a just peace. The criteria of jus ad bellum and jus in bello are open to subjective interpretation as it is debatable what exactly constitutes competent authority, last resort, just cause, right intention and proportion. Similarly in jus in bello how does one determine what is a proportionate amount of force to achieve ones aims, or that non-combatant casualties have been sufficiently minimalised? There is no codified standard, which renders these points open to interpretation and fierce debate. (Morality and War by David Fisher is a great book on the morality of 21st Century wars, and Investment In Blood by Frank Ledwidge is a powerful investigation of the true cost of the war in Afghanistan). Jus post bellum, however, is simpler to determine if the criteria has been met. Put simply, there is not peace in Afghanistan, and therefore the coalition has failed in its moral obligation and the war in Afghanistan was unjust.

The Demolition of Iraq’s Oldest Christian Monastery

Saint_Elijah's_Monastery_1Sadly Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery, St Elijah’s, built in the late 6th Century by Assyrian monks, has been pulverised by the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, or Da’esh, call them what you will. Though news only came out yesterday, the historic site was actually destroyed between August and September 2014, when ISIS took over the city of Mosul. The destruction became evident through satellite images. It remains unsafe for journalists and archaeologists to visit the ISIS-controlled area, and this particular act of wanton destruction has not featured in ISIS’ propaganda videos. However, similar acts of demolition have been key features of the Islamic State’s campaigns. The Islamic State subscribes to the notion that Islam is the only valid religion and that it must be subscribed to by all followers of other faiths, who are themselves stamped as kafirs. One way in which they emphasise this belief is through the destruction of artefacts that are not Islamic. However the history of St Elijah’s is not purely religious; in the 1970s it was used as a base for the Iraqi Republican Guard, and the US used it as a military base prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. There may, therefore, perhaps be other underlying reasons for ISIS to wish to destroy the monastery, not solely their extremist religious beliefs.

Lest we become the evil we deplore

The rapid rise of ISIS and its extremist activity within the Middle East have gained the attention of the world. The western mindset has been engrained with the idea that hard power is needed to combat such insurgency movements. The UK and France, currently under critical alert for extremist threat, have recently initiated air strikes in Syria in response to the Paris attacks and a fear of future threats.

Exerting western military power in Syria by bombing cities only serves to exacerbate the refugee crisis and marginalise Syrian youth. Young people are pushed to join the ISIS movement as the narrative of western ‘crusader’ is consolidated. Ensuring security for the Syrian population is impossible if we continue to launch air strikes on partially accurate locations. The international community must be able to address countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey to stop them from assisting or enabling extremism. A united stance by other Muslim countries, like Indonesia, might help demonstrate that ISIS is not the only pathway for Muslim youth in Syria. Ultimately, adhering to a liberal perspective, rather than impulsively counter-attacking after attacks like those in Paris would dissipate any imminent threat. The UK bombing in Syria does not eradicate any threat to its own population. Security can, and should, come without the need to exercise power.

We must act in a way so as to not become the evil that we deplore, for otherwise we are no better than the apparent extremism growing in the Middle East.