For most young Damascenes (20s, early 30s), this is the very first time in their life that they see it snow in Damascus. A report I just read says it’s been 25 years since it last snowed in this beautiful city of spirit and soul. But according to my father-in-law he saw it snow around 50 years ago… and doesn’t remember seeing snow on the streets of the Syrian capital, ever since.
Before settling in this city I most cherish and adore, I have been in and out of Damascus during many seasons, but this is the first time in my 30-something life that I see snow fluff down from the sky, so serenely and beautifully, filling me with hope and love, more than anything else.
Inside-out jackets to ask for rain
Drought, which struck at the Syrian agricultural scene last year, has been a source of great worry for many. I nearly wept when last Friday my husband told me the Imam of the mosque and everyone praying behind him, flipped over their jackets and robes to perform “Salat Al-Istisqaa” (Prayers to ask Allah for rain). Syrians, unlike many other parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds, follow authentic Sufi traditions when it comes to performing Rain-asking Prayers.
Ibn Arabi, the famous Sufi teacher and poet, burried at the foot of Jebal Qasyoon, writes in his 9-volume book, The Meccan Revelations, that Prophet Mohammad used to dress his Poncho-like robe inside out when performing the Rain-asking Prayer. This symbolic act of changing the position of jackets so the inside lining would face up, means the one who is praying is asking from a very deep point of need and thirst. He/she is so thirsty for rain that his outer shirt/jacket is now flipped inside out in dire need of dear drops of rain.
Symbolism and Sufism
Ritual in the Sufi disciplines has a very strong connection to symbolism. Many rituals include certain movements that are geared towards humbling the ego inside out. The act of bowing down to God is one of the obvious symbolic acts to show (and learn) humility. Wearing jackets inside out on a Rain-asking Prayer is also a symbolic act that aims to unify the inner state of the people who are praying with their outer performance, so that “form” and “content” go hand-in-hand in one single coherent prayer to ask Allah for provision and rain.
Lack of understanding symbolism leads many to denounce ritual
I have heard people say that they thought it was absolutely awkward that Rain-bringing Prayers were performed the way they were in Syria. The problem with many people commenting on Islam is their lack of awareness about the importance of symbolism in spiritual education.
Some people look at religion as a “duty” and therefore are ready to refuse anything that is not accepted by the “mind” when it comes to ritualistic areas of discussion.
But if you look at Sufism as it really is (which is a path of spiritual education that aims to take you to your Lord, through honing your ego and ridding you of everything that is polluting your mind, soul and ego), then you start to accept many notions, generally unaccepted by the “detached mind.” You cannot stand on a hill and judge a village by its appearances! You either go down and rub shoulders with the villagers, learn their ways, or keep your silence about things you do not know or understand.
Unfortunately educational systems, the media, and many other players, have made sure that all of us get the wrong idea about “Islam,” therefore “thinking and believing” that many of the things out there are “of” Islam. Islam without spiritual upbringing and education is something else that is mistakenly taken for “Islam.” Saying this, I go back to the point referred to in a previous post, that true “Islam” is not a tag we attach to a religion, but is a state of heart that we reach on a spiritual course that looks at “content” before looking at “form.”
In Sufism, form, ritual, and outer appearances, follow an inner meaning. If we start understanding this point, then we start understanding that symbolism in outer performance and behavior follows a “meaning,” not the other way around. If we cannot grasp the meaning, then it is out of respect we keep our silence, lest we desecrate something we are clueless about.