Syrians flipped over their robes to ask for Rain

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.

 

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The difference between Syria and Jordan on a Holy Friday

It’s 12:20pm in Damascus. It is quiet outside. This kind of quiet is leaving me with a great sense of serenity. I imagined all the Sheikhs and Imams of mosques around the city of Damascus with their serene voices giving mostly-spiritual Friday Prayer Talks to attenders. I had to imagine them giving the usual Friday speech because I couldn’t actually hear them!

It just struck me that if I were in Amman right now, a competition of which-mosque-is-louder would be bombarding my ears, and every body’s ears, turning a beautiful and calm Friday into a parade for loud, threatening, frustrated voices telling people about 3 major things: Jihad (supposedly: fighting for the sake of Allah), Hell fires, and cursing America and its submissive agents in the region.

That’s Amman, always polluting the air on a Friday noontime… and calling it pious.

But in Damascus, there is Adab (good manners). Yes, yes, many can argue that mosques here don’t blast their speakers in adherence to guidelines by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Good. Then how come the Jordanian Ministry doesn’t do the same?

This is a sign of the great Adab (respect) that Syrian Imams generally enjoy. In Syria, Damascus and Aleppo particularly, Sufism is prevalent among leading Sheikhs (religious mentors) and Imams (mosque leaders). In many cases, they preach a different kind of approach to religion, they talk about inner development, observance of ones self, being kind to others, and love of the Prophet.

In Amman, all we hear about is enemies (outward ones, of course) that we must die to kill, the enemies of Islam (foreign ones, of course), the enemies of the Muslim society, conspiracy theories, Hell fires that will grill the skins of enemies and those of us who don’t follow Islam (Kuffar, that is – nonbeleievers).

In Damascus, the focus is on a different world. For one, the tone of the Damascene Imam is much more calmer, much more inviting, than the Jordanian Imam (you don’t believe me? Switch to Jordan TV on a Friday Prayers time).

Tone is a sure sign of Adab (or lack of it). While in Jordan, it is almost like a hurricane has struck us, in Damascus, it is peace upon peace. My heart often pounds hurriedly when I pass by a mosque in Amman on a midday Friday. It is loud, nerve-wrecking, loud, and yes… ugly.

° Religious tone speaks to depth of mentor-ship

The way religious leaders talk to the public is very significant of the content they are preaching.

A leader who talks to you about Love of the Prophet is miles and miles away from another who tells you to go kill those who are your enemies (just because you should think you are better/right and they are deprived of Allah’s mercy! I mean, come on!).

A preacher who tells you the enemy is within you and it is your Ego (Nafs) that sways you in wrong directions then shows you the path towards Allah’s Light, is telling you a different thing from a preacher who tells you you are great, you are always right, and everybody else is wrong, and therefore they must die in the name of so-called Jihad!

Maqam of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Daghistani (qAs) in Damascus

A lot of my foreign friends have questions about Islam that I try to answer as much as I can. When they squeeze me in a corner about some insane Saudi Fatwa (religious ruling), I tell them there are different manifestations of Islam in the region, one kind does not rule out or dominate the others. If the media is focused on the ugly radicals who say they represent Islam, come to Syria and see for yourself how different Islam manifestations are brewing. This Islam belongs to everybody, covered and uncovered, with a beard or without; people here generally-speaking, have hearts like true gems. Crime rates in Damascus are the lowest in the world, and this involves all kinds of crime!

Syria is where the great Sufi Iban Arabi is buried, it is where Ahl Al-Bayt (the Family of Prophet Mohammad) and some of his closest Companions are buried. it is where an endless number of spiritual and Sufi leaders are buried.

Prophet Mohammad did not preach war and hatred, he preached inner self ascension. His mission is to take us to the Presence of Allah, to meet God, and know him. Tell that to a Jordanian or Saudi Imam and you are immediately considered an outcast, an enemy of Islam! They will tell you you can never know Allah, your job is to carry out his commands to the letter. (How can you love someone without wanting, with a deep inner urge, to know them?).

But Prophet Mohammad did enter the Divine Presence on the Night of Ascension… and his task is to take us from one station to another, to purify us, and teach us, and clean us, so we can enter the Ultimate Mosque in the Presence of the Almighty Allah.

Religion, therefore, cannot work without a mentor, an experienced Sheikh, to lead us through the mazes of our inner world, our Self, and Ego, and psyches. Many people think they can decide on behalf of Allah who will enter Hell and who will enter Heaven. Simpletons are everywhere: people who have huge egos that tell them they know everything about religion. Sit with them for five minutes and you will get a strong urge to get out of your skin. That’s not religion, nor is it mentor-ship, and it definitely has nothing to do with spiritual education.

° We are not equal in inner strnegth

Some people say ALL PEOPLE equally have to pray 5 times a day, perform pilgrimage, fast, etc. That’s also not true. ALL PEOPLE are not on the same level of spiritual development. Keeping prayers, and fasting, are all things that are meant to purify us, they are not an end by themselves. Only a knowing mentor, like Prophet Mohammad, (or an existing Spiritual Inheritor of Mohammad) can actually tell each one of us what to do. I know Sufi followers who are asked to perform one Sajda (prostration) a day. The Sheikh knows their circumstances/needs and knows that if he asked them to perform 5 prayers a day they will rather leave the whole spiritual development thing behind and continue their lives without the heavy burdens of ritual and daily commitments.

When Prophet Mohammad used to teach his companions how to pray, he started teaching them slowly, giving them a step by step tutorial, over a long period of time. He did not receive Quran in one go; it happened in a revelation after revelation so he can take people from one station to another – with a sure foothold in what they are learning. First they were allowed to pray while they are drunk; the Prophet then slowly trained them to pray from 1 time to 5 times a day, and to pray while being sober. Then he slowly took them to the station of not drinking at all.

Why then are people in this time and age are expected to jump right into the higher ranks of religious performance without taking it step by step. Why do they get terrorized if they don’t immediately take on every religious task mentioned in the book? That is not Islam!

Now, if a man or a woman from England, for instance, find something appealing in Islam, their hearts sway towards this beautiful Light… they might approach 2 kinds of “Muslim” Shiekhs, and get 2 extremely different results:

1- a Salafi/Saudi-minded Sheikh, will order them to stop drinking, he will order the woman to wear the Hijab (head cover), to perform 5 times, to stop mingling with men, to stay at home, to quit her job, he will tell the man to grow his beard, to fast, pay Zakat, attend Friday prayers always and forever, etc.

How can they do all of that just as they have started their journey into Islam? How can any one called Muslim (who was raised Muslim, that is) do all of that all at once?

One more question: Who said this is what Islam is all about?

Yes.

This is the point where Salafis like to call Sufis “Zanadiqa” (outcasts of religion). They translate the above-mentioned questions into: An invitation to destroy Islam!

2- Well, let’s see what happens when these two British people, or even a born-Muslim, go to a Sufi mentor. He will train them over a very long span of time on what is right for them, maybe on performing prayers, while teaching them something about the secrets and spiritual meanings of prayer. They might not be asked to pray at all, but might be asked to pay a minimal amount of alms to the poor. Or they might be asked to repeat one of Allah’s Names 100 times a day before they go to sleep. This all depends on what their Ego needs to be humbled, purified, and changed.

We don’t have the same set of Ego illnesses/desires/needs. Some people are struck by a huge doze of envy within the folds of their Nafs/Ego/Self, others are poisoned with pride, others with jealousy or greed. On their journey towards the Divine Presence of Allah, each one of them needs a different kind of spiritual bath for his/her Ego; the Spiritual Inheritor of Mohammad knows best what each of us need, because he himself was lead down a very difficult path where his Ego was trained, where he was trained to put up with people, understand them, and not overburden them with tasks that they cannot carry.

لا يكلف الله نفسا إلا وسعها

سورة البقرة – 286

God does not ask us to do or carry more than we can carry.

You cannot ask a spiritual “child” to carry what a spiritual “grownup” can. One has just started, the other has been initiated into the world of Sufi inner-self development, both are not equal in duty – and they may never be!

Why so? Because God looks at our hearts, not our outward signs of being pious. One can pray every day yet believe he/she is better than everyone else, while another bows down to Allah once a day and has the whitest heart you have ever met!

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Say NO to Visual Discrimination: You are beautiful

Don’t be a prisoner to narrow cultural definitions. That’s what I learned from extensive traveling. In one culture you might be the coolest looking young lady, when in another you might simply don’t fit into their definition of what is beautiful or fashionable.

I travel for music and journalism. In one country I am considered a normal-looking girl, while in another, a stunning beauty. I once traveled to a country well-known for its beautiful ladies, the first thought that came to my mind was: “I don’t have a chance over there, beauty standards are way above me.” Strange enough… I am regarded as a beauty in that country, hmmm (I must admit not to all people see it that way, but to many around me they actually think I’m pretty, hahaha).

Looks are important for women, let’s face it. The cool thing is, somewhere in the world you are regarded as beautiful and fashionable. You fit in somewhere, maybe not where you are right now, but you do fit in, so start fitting in within yourself.

Once I was on a music tour, I was praised by well-known musicians and ehem, fans, for my cool way of carrying myself around, the clothes I wear (which is basically plain baggy jeanz and shirts, with a few accessories).

In Syria, being ‘made-up’ is beautiful…

Guess what? When I tried that in Syria, everyone thought I was plain weird, LOL. I mean it works in England, it works in Morocco, in Egypt, in Jordan, in Tunisia, in Holland, in Uzbekistan (some of the places I’ve been to), but it simply doesn’t work in Syria. There is a specific dress-code for the classes over here. If you are supposed to reflect the Middle Class, then you should wear Middle Class Plus, a more expensive bag than what you can afford, and your hair, oh your hair, forget about that free-all-over-the-place hairstyle that made you look cool all over the world – except for Syria.

In Syria, you gotta look “made up,” or else you’ll get crushed by the gazes of everyone in the room.

People over here, in Damascus, wear Armani for meetings. Where I come from, before settling in Syria, we used to have meetings with the highest institution in the country wearing jeanz, tennis shoes, and looking plain, just plain normal people, and that was cool, it reflected self-confidence (and a touch of Americanization) in the other culture where I lived most of my life. Over here you gotta spend an hour in front of the mirror to “perfect” the look of “casual.” Cause casual without adequate attention to your hair, the way the shirt matches with the pants, a faint lipstick, and something expensive to complement the look, will be instantly regarded as riffraff-y.

Every culture has its share of visual discrimination

This monologue is brought about by a blog that is on today’s WordPress “Freshly Pressed” page (if you are a WordPresser then you must know what I mean).

Burgers and Chai is a lovely post by an American girl who is originally from India. She speaks about her struggle to fit in as a darker-shade, different-culture girl. While at one point in her life she was struggling to become a Burger, and to mute anything related to her Chai culture, today she is at peace to quilt both cultures together and become a Burger and Chai American-Indian girl.

The aforementioned blogger writes for Brown Girl magazine, dedicated for young Indian girls; it offers them a fresh view point on beauty and life to help them build their self-esteem. Darker skin doesn’t mean less beauty.

Finally… a magazine that publishes an opinion on its blog that denounces this monstrous product we watch on TV every day: Fair & Lovely. Why change the color of one’s skin? What is the world selling us about our natural beauty? Hide it?

Sing, sing, sing….

This whole conversation on beauty, fitting in, fashion, etc, reminded me of a song I used to listen to at moments of crushed self-esteem… You are Beautiful (“Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera).

Have a listen… blast the speakers, and sing loud and clear.

 

Click here to listen to ‘I am Beautiful‘ (Audio)

~ I am Beautiful

No matter what they say

Words don’t bring us down

We are beautiful in every single way ~

Eternal Beauty…

When I was a teenager, my Sufi grandmother, may she rest in peace, used to tell me:

In Allah’s eyes, you are beautiful, He created you. Your heart is your source of beauty. Outer beauty turns into layers of ugliness if the heart beneath that shell is empty. Don’t worship your outer shell, it will fade away. Look after your heart… that’s eternal.

Amen, Teta, amen…

Everyone wants us to conform to their “visual” library of what is beautiful. With limited visual-memory space, people tend to label anything that looks different from their set of norms as weird, ugly, unattractive, untidy, etc.

In the eyes of God, I often ask myself, does any of the approved-of looks grant us a seat in heaven. Do angels tell us at the gates of heaven: oh, sorry, you don’t fit into the beauty standards of your nation, we can’t let you in!

I don’t think so!

What are the real beauty standards that are considered beautiful eternally, in heaven, too… I often ask myself. Those must be standards beyond man-made narrow standards that often have materialism and commercialism at their core.

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Slowly going Bear: Changing into a Winter lifestyle


We’re not there yet, but for many people Winter has arrived.

The type of drinks/dishes one starts making is evidence enough one has already changed gears into the Winter mode.

More Cinnamon, a dash of Ginger, more oven, less brightness, deeper color hues…

Winter is much more deeper, more interesting than Summer… it is a time for reflection, love, romance, and a little bit of isolation. It is a time for sowing new seeds.

The spiritual metaphor of Bear

I admire bears during Winter; their hibernation ritual is one I have aspired to mimic over the years. Less talk, less people, less outdoor activities, less craziness… the Bear sure knows how to make the best out of Winter; he goes inside himself, inside his cave, and leaves everything else outside.

Winter is a time for cleansing one’s mind from the Summer garbage; the lunches, dinners, parties, obligations, visits, meetings, and using the newly-cleansed soil for propagating new life situations.

Winter is hot chocolate, soups, hot drinks with Cinnamon and Cloves, books, heat, cats, fur, and a fuzzy feeling inside. Baked potatoes, simmered stews, beans, lentils, wool, eye-glasses (like grandmas), and a slow, slow way of life.

Winter is a time for the heart to be washed from all its Summer attachments, problems, feuds, disappointments, and unfocused-ness. It is a time to “forget,” to plant new seeds and embrace them with love, in the womb of time, so in Spring new sprouts, new life will come through.

We don’t have to be stuck in the life dramas that annoy us – for life. Winter is a good place to weed down the ugly and nurse the beautiful. It needs heart soil ready to absorb and make use of the Winter rain.

The Bear hibernates to allow for a new life cycle the coming season, to shed old fur, and grow new fur.

I wish us all a Winter filled with seed nursing, slow-paced book reading, and spiritual fur growing.

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Perspectives on “Love” from an inner point of view

When you love someone you believe them, blindly. “Love is blind,” many would describe a lover who does not see the faults of his/her lover.

Love is the function of the heart. There are two hearts, the muscle that pumps blood around the body, and the celestial, untouchable, immaterial, heart, which we relate to when we like or dislike someone. Some of us have sensitive hearts that have “eyes,” or censors. They can tell if someone is lying or being insincere, without any further evidence other than the reaction of their heart, a trust-worthy source on hidden information, on the unseen, for some.

In Syria, we often hear people say: قلبي انقبض – قلبي ما ارتاح له. Meaning, “my heart did not open for him, my heart did not feel alright about him.”

Many people base a lot of their decisions, on this “intuition.” In fact, it is a real sensation often occupying the heart/chest/lower throat area. Some say it is “irrational,” seeing how no physical, or intellectual, proof was produced in the process of making the judgment about this thing or person we did not like… but who can beat the insistent nagging of a heart with a tight grip on it, قلب مقبوض?

A common saying in Syria, and some parts of the Arab World is: المحبة من الله, “Love is from God.” This is to explain the unexplainable motives of love of one person to another, or love of a certain ritual, place, theme, concept, way, etc.

Commonly it is believed that our hearts are steered by another force, by a higher truth, that drops in it the love of someone we might rarely see or meet, but feel great joy at their presence. This is a Sufi (i.e. Mystic Islam) concept discussed and affirmed by a host of Sufi scholars in different centuries (among them Ibn Arabi in ‘The Meccan Revelations’).

A person with a heart sincerely in love with its only dweller has the same faith as someone else from another “religion/dogma”

According to Mystics, the heart is the dwelling place of Allah. Buddhists, who are mistakenly viewed as “idol-worshipers” in main-stream/popular Islamic schools of “thought,” say that the heart is the seat of the soul. Buddhists following the authentic laws of Buddha, sincerely, are considered by a variety of Sufi masters as pure faith seekers being led on an authentic road towards the love of God, at heart they are “muslim,” since the meaning of “islam,” is surrender, and the nature of surrender is to “surrender the heart” to its ultimate lover, Allah. Gnostic Christians who emphasize the love of God, are also true seekers of The One, they follow the true teachings of Jesus Christ, and Sufis (from the Muslim crowd) often see them as brothers and sisters on the Path of Love.

So regardless of whoever we are, wherever we come from, we are “muslim” – with a small “m” – if our heart is surrendered to its only dweller, Allah – casting away all other types of dwellers (carnal things, children, possessions, husbands, wives, etc).

Prophet Ibrahim was described as being “muslim” (with a small “m”) decades before Prophet Mohammad fought oppression against the underprivileged and brought about the religion many call “Islam.” Islam, today, and being a Muslim (with capital “M”) is a tag that we attach to people who were born to parents who are also “seen” as Muslim.

But to Sufis, “islam” is the function of the heart, a heart is either surrendered to its lover (Allah), or not. Many around us, even ourselves, think they/we are “Muslim,” but in reality we are not “muslim.”

A person whom we think will go to hell because he/she did not perform the 5-daily prayers, might be “muslim” at heart, in love with his creator and very observant of ways to humble himself, and shed the robes of pride. While another who wears a scornful face and a proud resume of 5-prayers-a-day for 40 years, fasting, 4-5 times of pilgrimage, and countless charitable feats, might be simply doing it for the sake of gaining social leverage, a good name, and a beautiful image. His/Her heart might be with people, dunya, self-interest, and social-monetary gain. This is not “islam.” This is hypocrisy, and unfortunately there are a lot of supporters for the art of sustaining hypocrisy as a form of so-called “true religion.”

Hatred and conflict are between similar-hearted folk

(not between muslims and the ‘other’)

Conflict today is not between “islam/muslims” and the West, as the media (and many victim-minded Arab World/Muslim World inhabitants) would like to advertise. It is between a “branch” of a kind of people who brand themselves as being “Muslim” (capital “M”), and their foes, a branch of people who share the same traits of hatred, intolerance, an inclination to cancel others.

Both contenders play victim to the other, both trying to sway people’s hearts towards them by popularizing their dogmas and attitudes, both employing propaganda to their benefit, both wanting to cancel the other at any expense, both playing with facts, both violating the principles of love, understanding, and compassion, both lacking a vision towards a common destination of prosperity and peace, both lacking integrity and principal-ed actions.

Birds of the HEART flock together: We are sisters and brothers in heart

What makes us brothers and sisters is not the tags by which we call ourselves… it is the true essence of our hearts. “Birds of the feather flock together.” Birds of the HEART flock together.

You might not call the “power,” “force,” “secret” in your heart Allah. You might consider your self atheist, owing to the fact you don’t agree with, nor like the way, “Muslims” (with a capital “M”) speak about Islam. Yet, you are the brother of someone who is deeply in love with Allah, your hearts dance a similar dance, and beat with a similar rhythm.

You might be emitting non of the poisons and toxins another “Devout Muslim’s” heart is emitting. He might consider himself better than you with a one-way-ticket to heaven, while you might be the true beloved of Allah, because deep down inside you wish no harm for people, observe your actions with the best intentions in heart, and surrender your heart to this goodness you call “goodness.”

In my family there are women who wear the hijab, pray 5-times a day, and leave no opportunity to boast about their “devout” sons and daughters, yet back-stab their relatives, envy their friends, and look down at the poor and the needy.

In my family, there are also women who wear scanty clad clothes, follow the fashion, and look very unholy and un-Muslim, yet they do not harm a fly, are generous to the heart, kind, and a breeze of fresh air to sit with. My heart dances around the scanty clad ‘saint,’ and cringes to the voice of the self-proclaimed devout Muslima (with a capital “M”).

Yet, we very much are trapped by our looks, and are used to shunning others based on what they wear, or how they carry themselves. Once we get over the outer shell we might find a friend or a foe underneath, whose heart might sing a similar song to ours, a song of love… or a song of alienation. In both cases we shall dance together, either as lovers and friends… or as war-mates who wish to keep at each others throats since such hearts like to keep company so as to exchange the same kind of hatred and harm.

 

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To leave an impression on others is bad for our spiritual health

Why do we live our lives “to leave an impression”? We are all prisoners of – our own perceptions of – what impressions others have about us.

Being really free from caring/hallucinating about what other people think, is liberating. It sets our souls free to live without those mental and psychological chains of slavery that hook us to the “other” (or what we think the ‘other’ is thinking). It sets us free from the grip of the “self/ego” (Al-Nafs). Because the first aspect that is responsible for making us care about others – wanting to show off, compete, or compare ourselves to them – is the “ego” (Nafs).

According to mystic Sufis, one needs to reach a point in life, under the training of a wise Sheikh (mentor), where he/she no longer occupies her/his mind with “the other.” You fear non but Allah, care to please non other but him. That way you are free on earth; since your only Lord is Allah.

But we all have our little lords whom we try to impress and please, and these are hard to impress, you can never get their 100% love, loyalty, sincerity and approval. They might act like they approve of you in your presence, but behind your back, your tie didn’t look that good, you are a snob, and certainly that speech was not funny!

We walk into a room and try to show off our new suit, or leave the impression that we are VIPs – by walking a certain way, looking at people in a certain way, shaking hands and smiling in a certain way. If we are “artists” or rebels, we also seek to attract attention to our “free” way of pulling our hair up, or wearing our sloppy jeans. Sometimes we like to leave the impression of the “deep thinker,” the intellectual, and behave accordingly. Sometimes we like to leave the impression of the pious, the religious, and the good believer, and show off our “good faith” accordingly.

All of this, to the Sufi crowd such as Ibn Arabi (ق), is a form of “hidden shirk Al-shirk Al-khafee الشرك الخفي” (Hidden polytheism).

According to the Islamic Supreme Council of America:

One must cut down self-pride and make the inner-self prostrate, for one who truly submits to his Lord can no longer submit to his or her self. Once that state is reached, prayer is purely for Allah. That is why the Prophet (s) said:

الا اخبركم بما هو اخوف عليكم عندي من المسيح الدجال‏؟‏ قال قلنا‏:‏ بلى، فقال‏:‏ الشرك الخفي ان يقوم الرجل يصلي فيزين صلاته لما يرى من نظر رجل‏.0

Shall I inform you of what I fear for my Community even more than the Anti-Christ?” They said, “Surely!” He said, “Hidden polytheism.” [When a man gets up to pray, and takes his time with his movements to impress another man].

He feared for his community not the outward polytheism of idol-worship, for he was informed by Allah that his community was protected from that forever, but the secret polytheism, which is to do something for the sake of showing-off.

Showing off is a sign of lack of sincerity in the heart

Showing off our new car, hair due, status, financial capabilities, or simply performing prayer while paying attention to what impression we are leaving on people around us, are all forms of hidden idol-worshiping.

Lack of sincerity is born when we do not intend to do something for the pure sake of doing it… it is like paying alms to the poor, yet caring that people learn about it, or that they brand us as good people because we paid charity.

Some people give a hefty tip to the waiter, while their intention is not to help him financially, but to show the table of executives he has invited that he is generous. That is trickery, insincerity, showing off, and ultimately hidden idol-worshiping, hidden association.

How so?

Real good is pure good, it needs to be done with the pure intention of benefiting people without any hint of ego associated with it. Giving charity to a man, in a closed room, while one is thinking to him/her self, “I am good, I am generous,” is ego talk. This is not sincere.

One needs to give charity, and hope, only hope, that Allah will accept it as a pure deed only for Allah: To give charity not so as to feel pleased with oneself, nor to please others. Doing any kind of good deed to impress others, is hypocrisy. People think that giving money is the final aim. “He got his money, I am free to think what I like in the process.” Yes, the poor man got his money, but with what intention? Intention counts.

Reaching this station needs mentor-ship by an ego-expert, who knows its trickery, illnesses, and twisted ways.

On this earth, the most important thing to do is purify ourselves. There is nothing more important than this, to reach true Serventhood.

According to an article on the website of the Islamic Supreme Council of America:

That is known as the station of annihilation, in which the servant no longer sees herself or himself, no longer sees anything, but only sees, feels and is immersed in the Presence of the Lord without any partner and with no likeness.

… and if there is something more important than this, then we are in deep spiritual trouble.

Finale: The Prophet said:

The perfection of religion (al-Iħsān) is to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him and if you do not see Him, know that He sees you.

If we reach this station of belief this means we will be so aware of Allah we will no longer exercise hypocrisy, showing-off, lying, cheating, gossiping, back-stabbing, harming people, materialism, etc. But we are so plagued with all of those, how can we in one life-time purify ourselves from all of those very hard-to-figure-out illnesses of the ego?

We submit our egos to a mentor. We break our pride before him, and we learn how to tread upon the earth without the shackles of snobbery, pride, and self-worship that weigh us down.

* Article compiled with the help of different resources, including “The Meccan Revelations” (الفتوحات المكية) by Ibn Arabi (ق)

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Grilled Syrian kibbeh work great as greed detectors

The man in this story is 100% Syrian. The green creature (Green Man) in the image above stands for him (the pink bucket will make an entrance later on in the story).

He is in his 60s.

I’ve known him ever since I was 3 years old. I’m 50% Syrian.

When I went through my “atheist phase,” back when I was 15 years old, he and his wife started a war-of-words against me. Every relative, friend, and family-member got to know I had “questions” about God. How dare I? He even took the luxury of looking at me disdainfully, treating me like I was garbage… up until the day my Sufi grandmother, God bless her soul, told my uncle (a then-famous writer) about their actions.

That’s when my uncle walked into a room full of people who were back-stabbing me (in the name of religion), and talking about the “foe of God” (me) who had the nerve to pose questions about religion.

My uncle entered the room and (as we say in Arabic) wiped the floor with the relatives discussing my atheist self. He told them they suffered from religious superiority. “How dare you judge a teenager looking for the Truth, searching for answers?” he said. I had goosebumps. I never thought anyone would stick up for me, since I was sort of an outcast, at school and among relatives. My teachers thought I was a danger to society. But that’s another story.

“If you ever bother this girl again, you’ll have to answer to me,” my uncle said. “Under this roof she can ask all the questions she liked, and wander with her mind to the very limits of the universe.” Go, Go, uncle! I don’t know what my grandmother had told him, but from his words, I could tell, freedom of thought was a luxury many didn’t have at their homes.

From that point onwards, my relative hated me under his breath, and made every effort to “hit me below the belt” when the opportunity presented itself, however, without ever showing outright animosity. My uncle was feared among his network of relatives and friends, and my relative knew better than to bully me when I was still under my uncle’s custody.

Years later…

I came to Syria to work. I became a Sufi (an official one) a couple of years ago, after trying everything from yoga, meditation, and weird New Age charlatanism.

For years, I read so many books about mythology, psychology, spirituality, etc, in search of God, and the Truth… until my grandmother passed away a few years ago… and my heart broke to a million pieces.

The only way to stay alive was to believe in what she believed in, in who she believed in. She was Sufi, she believed in Allah and loved Prophet Mohammad (SAAW). She was a woman made of light, a great, loving, pure woman. After she died, I decided to believe and love what and who she believed in… to keep her legacy, and honor her presence in my heart. I became a Sufi.

I love Prophet Mohammad because Teta (my grandma) loved him. Full stop.

I believe wholeheartedly she was a “Weli” (Saint), because every time I entered the room and found her praying, I could see light in and around her. Her stories about Prophet Mohammad, Sufism, and Syria, became my lampposts, my “truth.” I moved to Syria a few years ago because this is where all her bedtime stories started and ended. This is where I’d like to end, one day.

Back to green man…

Green man, mentioned in the first sentence in this story, took the Tariqa (followed the Sufi path) under the supervision of my grandfather, husband of my aforementioned grandma. Green Man has been at it for over 40 years. When I became Sufi, he took the role of the know-it-all religious authority, which in my mind was quite anti Sufi. He started bullying me about what kind of books I read, what kind of rituals I performed, and made every effort to show me he knew better, while I was still a Sufi novice.

I kept on reminding myself about what Teta had told me on numerous occasions: “Among every breed of people, even among Sufis, you find sick people.” Hard to digest as a child; very useful to remember as a grown-up.

So, I ignored him and stopped talking about Sufism.

Green man, the bucket and the fridge…

The bucket in the picture above is not really pink in real life. I’m not sure what color it is because I didn’t get to see it. My mom did, though.

My mom and I were invited over to Green Man’s house a few days ago for a yummy meal of grilled kibbeh (kibbeh mashwiyyeh). The actual person who invited us is his son, who paid for everything, and grilled the kibbeh outside on a coal grill.

Twenty one pieces of kibbeh remained uncooked, after everyone devoured their share of kibbeh… so my mom asked what was the best method used to keep grilled kibbeh in the freezer without spoiling them. The son told her kibbeh needed to get a touch of fire to “wax” the pieces, then they would be ready for the freezer. “They get cooked after they are taken out and the ice is thawed,” he told her. Then he said: “I will wax the kibbeh for you so you can take them back home with you.” Mama doesn’t live in Syria, you see, so that was a great treat.

She innocently boasted about her 21 pieces of kibbeh over tea following dinner.

Next day, mama (who was staying at Green Man’s house) opened the freezer, and found there was a bucket filled with water to its brim. The Water had frozen and expanded in a way to block the rest of the contents of the freezer. The kibbeh was behind the bucket. Why would anyone in their right mind fill a bucket up with water that way… unless to purposefully prevent mama from getting her promised bag of frozen kibbeh?!

Being experienced with stupidities like this, Mama managed to break the ice and get her bag of kibbeh from behind the bucket. Green Man played stupid when his wife lost her mind asking him, what on earth was going on in his mind when he decided to fill up a bucket with water that way!?

Lesson learned: Grilled kibbeh aren’t cholesterol boosters only, but are great greed detectors, too.

Finale: My mom felt amused telling me the story, while I felt sick in the pit of my stomach.

P.S. Names of characters in this story were changed to protect the privacy of the people involved, including the narrator’s identity.



Posted in Life in General, Sufism & Syria | 5 Comments

Bye-bye summer

This morning, fall arrived. It drizzled a little bit in Damascus, and the earth let out its aromatic and strong scents, of soil mixed with a dash of mist.

The clouds enveloped the sky, sending back a different muffled echo for daily sounds… sounds that now can make you doze off easily off the chair: ZzzzZzzZZZZzzZZZzzzZZz

Posted in Life in General | 2 Comments

Thanks…

"As time ticks away, patience is a heavy burden to carry, but if you believe justice (حق) will prevail, enjoy time, and let go,"... my advice to myself todayThanks Yaak, I was praying for the same thing.

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Economic reform should go hand in hand with ethical reform

The jargon of economic reform can very easily blind us from our duty toward ourselves as human beings who can’t be bought, who have souls and needs that go beyond the material world.

The problem with economists – and business-world figures in general – is their total focus on economic gain, with some shallow attention given to “good” activities such as CSR (corporate social responsibility). This, in many cases, is exercised as a form of reputation-building, and marketing/PR stunts – void of any real intention to actually help the underprivileged and the poor.

Economic-building without attention to ethics is why capitalism is “suffering,” as many would like to say.

In Syria, the market is opening up. In addition to severe professional challenges facing the private-sector (from its back, since private-sector leaders don’t see the challenge yet; it will dawn on them once Dubai-minded businesspeople swamped the market), Corporate Codes of Ethics are also non existent.

There are institutions outside Syria that have codes of ethics that they breech every day of the month; I have worked in an institution that says it does one thing, and practically does another.

But in Syria, people are sincere… to an extent.

Although exploitation of employees can be the norm in some institutions but the seeds for something better, genuine, and “institutionally” ethical, are there. The problem is with the fact the ethics area is a bit hazy at times, unorganized, lack the form, and the person to monitor them is missing.

Accountability is missing

When the priorities for an institution, ethically-speaking, are “wrong,” you would expect all kinds of little misconducts to take place here and there . What is the most important ethic that matters to you with your employees? If you like apple-polishing a lot, then odds are, as a leader, you will stand by the person who apple-polishes his way to your heart, regardless of their wrong doing.

The person who gets away with their ethically corrupt behavior, therefore, gets used to feeling unaccountable for his actions, since you, as a leader, have allowed them on several occasions to twist logic around, lie, cheat, and maim people’s reputations, while giving you the ego massage you need to keep them under your wing.

A lot of people in high posts have an ego problem that blinds them from carrying out justice, and from making the “right” decisions. This ego also tells them it is OK to break a few ethical codes to get to the goal they want to get to.

Because apple-polishing is so important they surround themselves with a flock of unaccountable people who will one day bring down the institution due to their practices and ethical fiber.

Ethics are not a nice human invention that decorates and beautifies. Ethics have a real weight in the world, and in the hidden dynamics that control the fate of everything.

Without believing that ethics are actually an intricate part of economic progress, human gatherings (in the form of institutions and companies) will fail to live long. They will one day fall, nose dive and collapse.

Abufares.net quote

I just spotted a good quote related to this post, taken from Abufares.net:

Democracy for such a society is a luxury. Competitiveness, ingenuity, creativity and daring are shunned at as unnecessary antics while unsportsmanlike rivalry, cheating, corruption and rudeness are adopted as acceptable rules of the game. Religion of course is the arbiter and as long as we sneak our way through its antiquated laws and prejudiced misconceptions our actions are socially correct and morally sound.

Thank you, this explains a lot!

Posted in Syrian corporate culture | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Syrian new corporate culture: The need for reforms

What is the Syrian professional scene like? Here is a closer look at what happens within the sector; a critique by the article’s author as well as the interviewer who asked for anonymity.

Critiquing the Damascene business scene: An Inside look

The need for private-sector reform is most needed at this point in time

“Working here [in Syria] is close to working at a Falafel stall,” said the media expert I had dinner with a few days ago. As head of one of the most prominent institutions in Damascus, this foreign-educated young leader said he had a serious problem finding the proper manpower to employ.

“Most institutions here rely on the motto ‘everything goes,'” he said. “And unfortunately most employees adopt the same attitude,” he continued.

Throughout our discussion, we tackled several issues pertaining to improving the corporate culture here, which in many cases does not exist as a reality, only as a PR facade. In other words, there was a “lot of vision” when it came to Syrian corporations mushrooming around the different sectors. But when it came to adopting professional standards to run a business, many institutions here cared only about what gave them a good name. Breaking bread with them, however, would reveal a lot of “cut and paste,” poor attention to professionalism, and not much experience in running the show.

Corporate culture is also non existent in many institutions who considered “taking out employees for an iftar party during Ramadan” as a sure sign they had satisfied their share of building their corporate culture and identity. Codes of ethics in running a business are also very fluid and not much attention is grasped in instilling such codes in the mindsets of administration and subordinates alike.

An attempt to cut expenses without a real study of what successful budgeting is all about is also observed. Most importantly long-term planning does not seem to be employed in upraising employees, annual/5-year targets or plans for growth have no place in the upper management mindset, and “create-as-you-go” seems to be the norm in institutions that claim to be pioneering and “new.”

Such institutions will fail drastically if they were to build serious affiliations with Dubai-minded companies looking to expand in the Syrian market. Perhaps this failure will teach many that there are basics to adhere to when running a business, especially when it came to the successful observation of workable management models.

Open market economy, without private-sector open practices!

Syria is moving towards an “opener” market economy, through adopting a host of reformative processes geared towards changing the landscape of economy. Many policy-level efforts are being exerted to achieve this reality. But are these efforts trickling down to touch the very roots of existing companies?

The private-sector here operates on the World Bank-myth that considers it as an “active player” in changing the face of the economy. Inspecting several institutions around the country, one would be appalled by the level of professional conduct such institutions operate within. “To be an active player in changing economic realities, we need private-sector reform,” I told the aforementioned interviewee. “These institutions operate on public-sector mentality and have nothing to offer more than better looking ties, more posh cars, and prestigious events and functions.”

Syrian corporations, specifically in the private-sector, are actually benefiting from the classic negative image – the world has been advertising – haunting their “contender,” the public-sector. It is giving them an undeserved good image that appeals to any outsider who doesn’t know what’s going on inside them.

The hypothesis that the private-sector is a leader in change might be true in other parts of the world, but in Syria, the sector might pose a danger to the country’s economic future: “Private-sector advocates want to throw Syria into the lap of globalization, but they don’t have the fiantest idea of what it takes to play the game properly,” the expert said.

When it comes to the Syria-EU Association Agreement, a few are aware that they have no chance in competing with the EU once the agreement is signed. This, however, is not deterring the “open-minded and progressive-looking” camp from actually pushing a vibe towards signing the agreement at any expense.

“For a few shallow-minded young businessmen, any agreement of any kind makes for a good name for Syria. They calculate everything around values such as prestige, image, and short-term political gain. But on the long-run, getting stuck in commitments that require deep-rooted change needs a lot of attention to detail,” he said.

Acquiring ISO Certificates to help local products enter foreign markets are but the tip of the ice-berg. Corporate Social Responsibility, which in many cases is mistaken for philanthropy or image-building/marketing philanthropic stunts, is a serious matter that many are toying with, without understanding that CSR is a lot more complicated as a concept than skin-deep giveaways.

A closer look at the private-sector in Damascus will reveal administrative and managerial reforms are critically needed in both monitoring the sector, and in encouraging it to adopt sound professional strandards that go beyond the usually-employed PR stunts.

Syria and the WTO

Many figures in the Damascene private-sector are pro the admission of Syria into the World Trade Organization (WTO). To them this move will be crucial in liberalizing the economy.

In deed, Syria, very recently, has won the observer status at the WTO after the US dropped its opposition to the move.

But what is lacking in this enthusiasm towards propelling the country towards an opener economy is the “details.” Without adopting “professional methodology” to realize their vision for more openness and growth, Syrian institutions will be devoured by multi-national companies looking to expand their activities in Syria when the economy is open and liberalized.

Although many Syrian businesses are still far-removed from the notion of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) – a WTO must-have – one would expect “visionaries” in the private sector to adopt measures inside their institutions to protect them from the advent of WTO provisions that prohibit IPR trespasses. Instead, you would find a lot of effort exerted towards adopting the “form” without the “content” of new trends, such as entrepreneurship.

In a new contest to award “Syrian entrepreneurs” with “novel ideas,” a project with a poor conceptual rationale won the award, under the glamorous use-of-the-word, “entrepreneurship.” However, when looking closer at the awarded project, one would observe it was in great breech with recognized IPR laws. Those might not be adopted as of yet in the country, but one day they will be.

The question is, when private-sector leaders say they are pro moving towards opening the market, what models of conduct are they employing? What work ethics? What actual change in their work environments are they advancing?

One day Syrian institutions will no longer be able to hide under their reputations. For now “everyone is doing the same thing,” so no one really cares when a google image is grabbed off the net to create a brochure, or a project is funded without much attention to labor and environmental laws. But one day the critic will be born when corporations with long-standing experience, vision and corporate culture enter the scene and propose new and well-thought-of (not cut-and-paste) ways of running a business.

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