Rumi in Strathfield and November Rhyme #12

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On Friday evening at the Australian Catholic University, two Muslim scholars sat with an audience and discussed the great 13th century Persian poet Mevlana Rumi.

Ustadh Feraidoon Mojadedi, an Afghani scholar who now lives in the USA, was in conversation with Imam Afroz Ali, of the Sydney Seekers’ Hub, a place of Islamic learning.

They spoke of Rumi as a great spiritual teacher, not just for Muslims, but for all humanity. Ustadh Feraidoon Mojadedi wears his enormous erudition lightly, and had us laughing even as he explained the complexity and depth of Rumi’s vision. He argued that what non-Persian readers need is more, better commentary rather than translation, because all translation is misleading. There’s much more to Rumi than you would gather from the quotes you see on Facebook.

I went along for a number of reasons, but mainly because a friend gave me a copy of The Essential Rumi decades ago which has remained, literally, a closed book. I’m also aware that my ignorance of Islam can’t be a good thing in the age of Corey Bernardi and Donald Trump.

Well, I know a tiny bit more about Rumi, and I’m planning to go to another event next week. But possibly more significant is how the evening altered my sense of Islam.

The relaxed, affectionate  relationship of the two scholars was in sharp contrast to images I have from movies.

In question time, it was women who asked all the questions – so much for the notion that women are silenced in Islam.

And most interestingly we were all invited to join the sunset prayer part way through the event. I’m not at all religious, but I’d joined in the Our Father at an Anglican ceremony the previous day. I checked with a number of people and joined the prayers. I did a lot wrong: I hadn’t arrived in an abluted state, I didn’t take my shoes off, I joined a line that turned out to be the women’s line, and I’m pretty sure I failed to follow all the standing and kneeling correctly (though my Catholic youth and childhood was some preparation for that). And of course I didn’t understand what was being said by the prayer leader. But there is something profound in joining a group of people who humbly bow repeatedly in the face of the mystery of the universe, and I returned to the lecture with an extraordinary sense of our shared humanity. Which was also the content of much of the talk.

So I went to the event expecting a literary evening, and found something quite different.

I’ve set myself a task of writing a 14-line rhyme with each blog entry in November (originally inspired by those people who write a whole novel in November – not sweating over quality, just getting the words out). Here goes for this one:

Rhyme #12: On joining sunset prayers
I bow, I kneel, I touch my forehead
to the grass. I have no God:
no disrespect, I take these borrowed
gestures (like my childhood’s nod
at Jesus’ name, or genuflection)
not to seek some Power’s protection,
but to say: The world is vast,
my time here comes and goes so fast.
Right now I humbly pay attention
to what is deepest in my heart:
my loves, my challenges, the part
I choose to take past good intention.
We bow, we stand, we’re flesh and bone
and mind. We’re none of us alone.

 

5 responses to “Rumi in Strathfield and November Rhyme #12

  1. What a charming poem

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  2. Like you Jonathan – while having no allegiance to any particular faith or creed I’ve prayed along with many – in cathedrals, churches and shrines and temples – shared rituals along with others. The past two Saturdays here in Tamworth I’ve joined a cultural learning group and visited ancient sites of ceremony and initiation dating back who knows how many thousands of years. One of the days began with a smoking ceremony following a minutes silence listening to the bush sounds around us – cicadas and bird calls of various kinds – the breeze soughing through the trees above the bush chapel where we sat in the Tamworth Botanical Gardens – itself on the site where old men of long ago carved and chipped at stone forming cutting implements. And like you, too, in Turkey – some years ago – visited Rumi’s tomb in Konya (where faithful women (long-robed clad) with children and grand-children in tow – surreptitiously snapped photos even though the signs in many languages told us not to do so – their children smiling at me when they knew I had seen them doing so) – attended a “Whirling Dervish” ceremony – and like you, too, have a gift of The Essential Rumi on my bookshelf – given by a Turkish student of an adult evening class I taught about 30 years at the old Cleveland Street High. Interesting to think of Rumi as having passed away just a half-century before Chaucer’s birth.

    I think Annabel CRABB is blotting her copybook further – having tried to turn the smarmy Morrison into a hail fellow well met – her next Kitchen Cabinet is with the CB you “fingered” in this blog entry!

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  3. Dear Jonathan

    Being of Muslim faith of migrant parents, I moved to Aus in the early 90s and always felt at home loving this beautiful society of ours, my school mates, teachers and everything else…. until Sept 11 2001.

    ‘Life’ inside my mind was never the same since: I was an ‘outsider’, disliked and unloved by Aus through no fault of my own. Someone who didn’t belong here. The feeling weighed a billion tonne burden and I have been perpetually flustered.

    You have no idea what your blog meant to me and the likes of me. The respect you show to shared humanity gives me hope to live with positivity, to mention th least. Your blog is now being circulated by many.

    May you always be wrapped with Peace and Ease and the likes of you multiplied many times over.

    Warmest regards and wishing you a gentle day now and always…

    N I

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