draliDamascus, March 2005

Transcribed and translated by Mahmoud Mostafa

“Welcome, welcome! Peace upon you,” he says as he kisses Kabir and then me. His face is as bright as I remembered it. His voice is full with the vigor of life. He smiles broadly when he sees us and he is filled with delight as he introduces us. The living room is filled with people. I recognize the faces of my dear friends and devoted students of Dr. Ali. There is Dr. Ali Himdan, the talented calligraphic artist, and there is Ramadan who is Dr. Ali’s nephew. I look around and see the room is as it was seven years ago. The windows are covered with green drapes, and the walls are adorned with Quranic verses and pictures of the sanctuaries of the Prophet and his family. The room is filled with books neatly arranged on shelves with the title of volumes colorfully written across the books’ bindings. The furniture is the same simple chairs and couches with Damascene patterned cushions. We have entered into the presence of our master, our living Mawlana.

Dr. Ali begins by introducing one of his visitors, Dr. Ahmad Imran, who is the retired head of the Syrian Lawyers Union and Dean of the School of Law at the University of Damascus . As he introduces him he affectionately holds his hand in his. “Now he is the head of the Retirees Union!” Dr. Ali says jokingly. He points to the bookshelves. “Here is Dr. Imran’s encyclopedia right next to your books, Kabir,”  he says to us.

He then proceeds to explain to Dr. Imran about Kabir and Camille and their work and publications. “One of his books that I particularly love is The Knowing Heart,” he proudly tells Dr. Imran. “The reason I love it is because the bond between us has always been that of the heart,” he goes on to explain. “When you read the word HEART from East to West it means ‘You see Him’ in Arabic and if you read it from West to East and dive into its meanings you will see that ‘He is Art’. God is Art.” He then points to the two book collections on the shelf beneath the large volume of In the Shades of the Quran. “So the two of you are neighbors under the shades of the Quran, a Western doctor and an Eastern Doctor. And here you meet.

“You have arrived before me because this is the first day for me out of seclusion. This is the first day that I come out in Muharram. I couldn’t see you sooner because I looked scary in my beard, just like a terrorist! A little bit like Kabir,” he jokes pointing at Kabir’s goatee. “So I just shaved today and came out and you are the first people that I have received this month. I even stretched it a bit because I was supposed to stay in seclusion all of today too and come out tomorrow. But by your intercession I was able to come out sooner.”

Dr. Imran apologizes and says that if he knew he wouldn’t have come today. “No, on the contrary, I know now your dearness to Hussein and his people and that he lets you intercede on my behalf to get me out of prison!” he says and breaks out laughing with delight. “And this is Mahmoud Mostafa, Abu Eid who is our translator and a very good friend of Sheikh Ibn Arabi. And of course anyone who is a good friend of Ibn Arabi between me and him is a relationship that is beyond words. We have between us words without words. He is living in America and is of Egyptian origin.”

He then goes around and introduces the rest of the people in the room. “There is our new friend Bassem Issa from Holland , Dr. Imran Imran, son of Dr. Ahmad and the head of the lawyers union in Tarsus . I tell him one Imran made Moses and Mary and you are two Imrans — together what will you do?” he jokes and breaks out in his boyish laughter. Then he moves to an engineer, Salman Subeih who speaks German, Russian and other European languages. Then there is the young poet, Azdeshir Khalil. Then on to Dr. Ali Himdan the artist who draws calligraphic figures of great beauty. Then to two young men who are taping the gathering, Kinan Hussein and Sam Yusuf.

He then turns back to Kabir, “Tell us how are Camille, Shams, Mathew and the Queen Carolina?” He affectionately pronounces Cara’s name as Caroleena. He laughs and then tells Dr. Imran how Cara was just a little girl when she first came to Damascus and how she left her teeth here and they planted them in the garden and now several large trees have grown out of that spot and they are called Caroleena’s Teeth. He goes on to tell a story about a girl named Carolina whose mother was semi-divine. Carolina died and when they were burying her, her mother held her hands and the girl would not let go of her mother’s hand and was thus brought back to life…

Kabir then gives Dr. Ali copies of the latest books published by Camille and him. Kabir explains the Education Project and its goals. As we are talking, Dr. Imran is carrying on a side conversation with Dr. Ali. He wants to know about Kabir. Dr. Ali somehow manages to listen to him and maintain his attention with us. He lets Dr. Imran know that Kabir is doing very important work for humanity and that his work is known throughout the world. People around the room want to know where Kabir is from. “Polish origin,” are the whispers in the background.

Kabir goes on to explain how people in America are thirsty to know more about Islam and how our work is to present Islam in an undistorted way to them. Dr. Ali explains to Dr. Imran that we are working within the American environment to present an Islam that is clear of cultural biases.

Dr. Imran listens for a while and then gets up to leave but Dr. Ali stops him. “Before you go I want to explain about RETIRING.” He then goes on to explain to us how Dr. Imran was the foremost lawyer in Syria but that at that time he was not involved in the Sufi path. So after he retired from his profession he started working with Dr. Ali and wrote 19 books under his guidance.

“Retirement in Arabic is Taqa`ud which literally means to sit down. So retired people are called Mutaqa`id, which means someone who has sat down or has nothing to do, and in our Syrian slang we pronounce it Mut Qa`idan which means to die sitting down. In writing my book about Imam Ali I found three words of his that opened up new horizons and galaxies of meaning for me. Imam Ali says, ‘At Tuqa Ra’isul Akhlaq,’ meaning that Tuqa is the head of good character. Tuqa means purity of faith, and the clarification of principles. It means to truly stand for the oneness of the Unique One (Tawheed ul Ahad). This word (same as Taqwa) comes from the root WQA which is protection; we say an ounce of protection is better than a pound of cure. So Tuqa means the protection of the Nafs from any kind of associations with God so the servant knows the Unique One. Now Taqa`ud is made up of two words Tuqa and `Ud which means come back, come back Abu Eid, return!” he says to me laughingly. “The Nafs returns to truth and sees its Originator, light upon light. So when this master of ours,” Dr. Ali says pointing to Dr. Imran, “came back to Taqwa he wrote in the span of 10 years 19 books. Important books about secularism, feminism, philosophy, the common ground between Christianity and Islam and so on. It’s one of the ways of our dance school! He dances very well! This is why we gave him the title of the Head of the Retirees since it means the returning to purity, to clarity.”

Dr. Imran is visibly pleased with the accolades Dr. Ali gives him. Dr. Ali continues, “From a psychological point of view when one is employed, one is bound by the limitations of one’s job. But when you leave your job you are in absolute freedom, you sleep whenever you want, get up whenever you want, work whenever you want. So we believe that the youthfulness of purity comes when preoccupations are left behind.”

Dr. Imran finds an opening to speak: “For forty-three years I spent my life with criminals of all kinds. By God, I did not live my true life until I started writing. The people I associated with before always took from my mind and gave back nothing, but writing gave back to me.”

Dr. Ali responds, “When I attended the lecture of Dr. Nawaf Shibli, he told me that before I arrived he felt that his capacity was being bled, everything around him was sucking his energy out of him. Then when I started speaking he started to feel he was being filled. The idea here is that the interaction of free minds is like the connection of wires that bring light. But loose, individual wires don’t light anything up. Maybe you can use them to tie things up but they cannot light up anything. Imam Ali says that God gave you the keys of His treasury when He gave you permission to call to Him. When He said, ‘Call upon Me and I will respond to you.’ So when He said to you ‘call upon Me’, He guaranteed to you that He would respond. This is from the verse, ‘If My servants ask you about Me, I am near. I respond to those who call to me. So let them respond to Me and let them have faith in Me so that perhaps they will be guided.’ Kabir needs no translation of this part! He interrupts me laughing. This is the Quran and he knows it. We just remind him of it and he knows it.

“I think that every time you are able to clear your mind of preoccupations you return to being a child. This is why Jesus said, ‘You will not enter the Dominion until you return and become like children,’ that is until you have no preoccupations except with God. This is the idea of continuous childhood, this is the idea of the returning to purity, of Tuqa`ud.

“When Pharaoh brought the sorcerers Moses brought his staff and it devoured all of their magic. After this the sorcerers believed in Moses. So the stick convinced them. It didn’t force them, it convinced them.”

Just then another guest arrives and the conversation is interrupted as Dr. Ali introduces Mr. Muneer Al Shwaiki to Kabir and introduces Kabir to him: “This is Kabir, the one you hear about in our talks, the one who wrote The Knowing Heart.”

He asks Kabir how his heart guided him to write this book. “The story of the heart as it writes about the knowing heart!” he says laughing.

“When I journeyed from the mind, when I left the mind I began to see from the heart. I saw the need to go beyond the intellect. I began to see through the heart with the encouragement of Mawlana,” Kabir responds with a smile referring to Dr. Ali, “and to understand that the heart is the most important instrument of knowledge that helps us understand the relationship between the finite and the infinite.”

Dr. Ali holds Kabir’s arm and says,”This is the same issue that Rumi faced. Jalaluddin Rumi was a philosopher who used to speak from logic until the dervish Shamsuddin came to him and communicated something to him from his heart. Rumi asked him to teach him something of this radiance that he saw in him but Shamsuddin told him, ‘This has nothing to do with you. Stick to your philosophy!’ And this drove Jalaluddin mad, mad. He started whirling and he continues to whirl for a hundred thousand years because Shamsuddin melted all thought away from him. He directed the rays of the Sun upon him until it melted away all of his preoccupations and struck the heart of the matter. When he collided with the Ocean he was drowned and when Jalaluddin drowned he became Mawlana. He became the seafarer who has to keep whirling lest he drown. He has to keep turning in order to stay in balance, for him not to drown in the fire of radiance.

“OK, now I want to ask a question that I asked before. I just want to test your memory. Which Surah inspired Jalaluddin to produce the Mathnawi?”

Kabir immediately answers, “Al Qassas.”

At this Dr. Ali claps his hands and laughs, “Yes, bravo! Great!”

Kabir looks at him lovingly and says, “How can I forget?”

Dr. Ali responds, “Last time you didn’t know the answer to this question, but the answer came from an Iranian youth, the son of Qazwini. Anyway, now tell me about your new projects.”

One of the guests wishes to invite us to a late dinner. “Thank you, Dr. Ali is our dinner, the food of our hearts,” Kabir replies, politely declining the invitation.

Dr. Ali laughs, “He only likes to eat me! Eat my flesh and drink my blood!” he says repeating the words of Christ. “These are very profound words of Jesus. It’s a wonder of wonders.” He tells us, “I am writing a book called The Meeting of Hussein and The Messiah. They have met upon a common word,” he tells us using a phrase from the Quran. “This is a new understanding of the common word, not the same as the current meaning. The common word is sacrifice. It means to truly present yourself as a sacrifice the way Jesus did and the way Hussein did. This is why their meeting is upon the common word which is to present one’s essence for the sake of others.

“We had a guest, Mr. Brian Cox from California . He is part of a group called the Abrahamic Society. We asked him are you really Abrahamic? OK, we’ll light up a fire for you. Abraham was put in the fire and the fire became coolness and safety for him. So we’ll do the same with you and see if it becomes coolness and safety then you really are Abrahamic! Of course he didn’t know what to do.

“Now see how difficult it is to really understand the word. It’s dangerous. Look for example when Bush used the word crusade, the whole world went up in arms over it even though Al Gore used it during his campaign against Bush when he said whoever is with us has to carry his cross and come. Now Gore is using this word against Bush not against Muslims. Now I want to explain the perils of understanding the meaning of a word like cross. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever believes in me let him carry his cross and follow me. Whoever has possessions let him leave them behind and follow me along the road of hardship, along the road of sacrifice.’ So the cross in the sight of Christ means firmness, it means to be steadfast in the face of temptations, it means to be rid of these temptations and to become sincere. The cross means the sincerity that is embodied in the sincere person.

“The one who saw this exact meaning is Imam Ali. During his time of great trial, his brother Aqeel wrote to ask about him. He replied to his brother’s inquiry by saying, ‘By God, Aqeel, I am as the poet said: If you ask me how I am, I am patient before the perils of time, a cross.’ So the cross is the embodied sincerity of the sincere person who is steadfastly firm in the face of any temptation, in the face of any fear. That is the cross,” he says emphatically. “The cross means I am here to execute the will of the Father, I am here to execute my Father’s will so I have to leave everything else aside. This is the cross! And Imam Ali gave clear meaning to this word by describing himself as a cross. I am a cross! Now every sincere person can use this word. Through historical contamination or literary contamination or contamination from certain events that distort common people’s understanding, the cross came to mean enmity. Judaism came to mean enmity, as we just heard from Dr. Imran. But when we return to the purity of matters with understanding we see that Jew means one who returns to his Rabb (Lord), as Moses returned and admonished Aaron and made him return to the certainty in God, not in the opinions of men and thus ridding the people of the idolatry of the golden calf and so on.

“Now these words have precious value; whenever we arrive at an understanding, we solve a great problem in all the continents of the earth. The idea of the crusade for example, if the view of Imam Ali about being a cross were to be spread, matters would be very different, if we spread the meaning of the staff that nullifies sorcery, if we spread the meaning of Judaism that returns us to God, that returns us to Hu, we would be rid of the problems that afflict people. You know I always have diverse people here, Armenian Christians, Sunnis, Shia, Jews, and so on. People ask me, ‘What are these Armenians doing here?’ I tell them, ‘These Armenians are my Armenians.’ They ask me, ‘What are these Druze doing here?’ I tell them, ‘These Druze are my Druze.’ They ask me, ‘What are these Jews doing here?’ I tell them, ‘These Jews are my Jews.’ What I mean is that we are all originally the children of Adam…

“Understanding is so important, so important. And understanding is a thousand concerns and each concern requires a thousand resolves. How many Iraqi satellite stations are there today?” Some one says there are seven or eight. Dr. Ali continues, “There are several stations transmitting to us news and knowledge, and we see many things, even crimes. Before this we couldn’t see anything about Iraq . Now if we understand the meaning of words like cross, or Jews, or Islam slowly and with deliberation… They tell me, ‘Yes, but there are wars in Palestine , in Iraq , in Ireland,’ and I say, ‘This is correct but what is your view? Do you have a view that can save us from this? Do you have a view that can extract us from such conflict? Tell us your view but don’t speak to us from the perspective of transgression and enmity, rather speak to us from the perspective of understanding.'”

Dr. Ali returns to the saying of Imam Ali and as he speaks he uses his whole body to emphasize his message: “Right now I understand from Imam Ali his saying, ‘If you ask me how I am, I am patient with the uncertainty of time, a cross.’ I am explaining a piece of information that is of value about Imam Ali and his use of this word. He would not use a word that is filthy; this is a noble word. This means I am not presenting information for the sake of attacking someone or to oppose someone. No, I present information for the sake of knowledge. If you ask me how I am, I am patient, patient,” — he is pounding his fist up and down for emphasis as he speaks. “He distilled the whole story of Job with this saying, patient is the last name in the Most Beautiful Names, God culminated all of His attributes with The Patient One. Imam Ali enhanced the quality of patience with the cross, meaning: I am immune, I am immune from temptations.

“I want to give another example of the cross. This second example is the cross of Muhammad. When his uncle, Abu Talib came to him with the offer of the Meccan leaders to make him their king and to give him whatever he desired of power, wealth, women, and so on in exchange for abandoning his prophetic mission, his answer was, ‘By God, Uncle, if they place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand in order to abandon this matter I would not leave it unless I perish.’ As he is saying this he stretches out his arms one by one to give the impression of being crucified, and by saying this Muhammad went on to spread the message of Islam. So the cross is perseverance, it is firmness and strength.”

Dr. Ali then smiles and tilts his head towards Kabir, “Now Kabir is probably saying to himself, ‘What is happening with Asaad Ali? He is speaking like the people of outward form. What’s all this talk about history and language? Where did the Sufi go?'” He smiles broadly and gestures with his hand for us to wait, “The man is shocked. All I am talking about is history, law, language. Where is the dervish? Where is Mawlana?” he asks laughing. “OK, here is something for your sake, for Caroleena’s sake,” he says and laughs with utter delight. “Crusader, Salibi, means Salli Bi, ‘pray through me’! ‘Pray through me’. Just like Bismillah, Iqra’ Bismi Rabbika,” he says with emphasis on the Bi in those Quranic phrases. “Through God’s power pray. Here’s something from Tassawuf!” he says as he claps his hands and laughs, “Look at how many forms the cross has! Furthermore, the first one to use this word was Christ himself when one of the young men came to ask him how he could ascend to the highest dominion. He gave him the Ten Commandments but the young man protested that he already knew these things. So Jesus told him, ‘Then sell everything that you possess and carry your cross and follow me!’ The young man told him that he had much wealth and he could not part with it so he left. Jesus then said, ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for one who is attached to worldly wealth to enter heaven.’

“So the cross is Imam Ali, it is Muhammad who is immune from the wealth of the whole world, it cannot tempt him. One of the stands of Imam Ali is his saying, ‘By God even if I am given everything that is between heaven and earth in exchange for unjustly taking a husk of grain from an ant, I would not do it!’ This is the cross, this is the cross; this is it! When Ahmad Imran made me cry, I was being shown the meaning of the cross. When he talked about the woman who asked Jesus to heal her sick child, he was talking about the use of the word Rabbunee by Jesus. When he called out, ‘Rabbunee,‘ it was the same as Abraham’s seeking protection from the fire. Would Jesus accept discriminating among people? Would he accept disappointing them and refuse to help them? What can he do? What can he do? He is on the cross now between his disciples and his understanding. This is why he said ‘Rabbunee’. He didn’t say ‘Ya Rabbi’, he didn’t say ‘Father’, he called out ‘Rabbunee’, meaning ‘my tender Rabb‘ and this changed the understanding of everything. He made it clear that it is incumbent upon us to feed the dogs, it is incumbent upon us to heal the sick of all religions, that it is incumbent upon us to work and act on the Sabbath, and on Sunday, and Friday and every day! This is Rabbunee, Rabbunee; it’s a nickname for Allah but he used it to seek refuge in His Tenderness, that Rabb who is inside the membranes of our eyes, who is in our blood, who makes us see. This is the Rabb who carries you up to heaven and brings you back in a wink of an eye, that is Rabbunee. And this Rabbunee is the Rabb of the cross, of steadfastness, of firmness. Just as we have, ‘Say: I seek refuge in the Rabb of humanity, the Sovereign of humanity, the God of humanity.’ We seek refuge in all these three at once so seeking refuge in Rabbunee is the same as the seeking of these three. It’s as if a child cries out to its mother and even if she is angry with him once she hears his call to her all burdens are lifted. Likewise, when Jesus cried out, ‘Rabbunee’ — oh! this had a great affect on me.

“This too is of Tassawuf, it’s from the tears of Tassawuf, it is humility, it is gentleness, it is benevolence towards people, it is to return to the prevailing concepts and to breathe new spirit into them, the spirit of understanding. In physics, Robert Oppenheimer said that the most difficult thing, the most serious thing, is to create the proper balance between superficiality and depth. This is the hardest thing and it is the thing we are in need of every day. Similarly, the Algerian author Malik Ibn Nabbi said that it was very difficult and very important to establish a balance between the learned idea of God and the market idea of the masses about God. Just imagine how dangerous is the common idea that declares all people are infidels!”

One of the women asks who says this and Dr. Ali responds, “Many a Mufti has said this! For example Sheikh Tantawi of Al Azhar when he was the Mufti of Egypt issued a fatwa based on the opinion of Ibn Taimiyya that was published in Al Ahram stating that all Shia factions are greater infidels than the Jews and Christians!”

This causes a reaction among some of the people in the gathering. “Who appointed him spokesman for God?” one of his nieces asks.

“I am not speaking against the Mufti when I bring this up,” Dr. Ali explains, “I am talking about the issue of understanding.”

The young niece asks, “Did he really mean it?”

Dr. Ali smiles, “Yes and he even articulated practical action against the Shia, he proclaimed that their women can be taken captives and used as concubines! I am not saying anything against Sheikh Tantawi even though I responded to his fatwa in writing and told him that you do not represent any of the Muslims with this fatwa of yours. It is true that you are the Mufti of Egypt but you represent no Muslims with such talk, you only represent your five understandings; our Islam is built upon five pillars while your ignorance is built upon five pillars: your ignorance of language, your ignorance of eloquence, your ignorance of history, your ignorance of philosophy, and your ignorance of the Quran itself! The Quran says: ‘To God everything in the heavens and earth prostrate,’ and Muhammad says, ‘The closest a servant can come to his Rabb is when he is prostrate.’ This is the fatwa of Allah for His servants; Allah gave a fatwa to all His servants that they are close to Him, that they are all serving Him and that they all worship Him. All that is in the heavens and earth have surrendered to Him! This is the fatwa of Allah; this is the fatwa of Islam, whereas your fatwa represents your five ignorances. I do not wish to harm any Muslim with my words but my words are meant for you Sheikh. Your ignorance led you to the words that you published in the public media. Don’t think that I am against you, but I am against your method of understanding. When you say: ‘Ibn Taimiyya said…’ and you depend on his opinion, well we know him and we know what he stood for. He is long gone and so are the times in which he lived. I suggest that you try reading Surah Al Raad anew. This is the Surah that says: ‘To God everything in the heavens and earth prostrate as well as their shadows.’ Yes, even the shadows worship God! Nothing is excepted; my hands are obedient and the shadow of my hand is obedient. I told him if you can understand this Ayat then I’ll say, ‘Peace upon you our Sheikh!’

“This incident first resulted in increased tension between Egypt and Syria , but it led to improved relations because Mubarak contacted Assad and tried to correct the situation and it led to dialogue and improvement in relations.”

Another guest arrives, Sheikh Muhammad Badyani from Iran. After greetings and introductions, Dr. Ali turns to Kabir: “Going back to real meaning; that understanding is the purification of concepts and this causes wonders in this world. We believe this is the kind of understanding that is needed. Seeking understanding is what brings us together right now. Religions came through understanding; through patience with concepts until they become clear. The incident with Sheikh Tantawi that I just told you had great benefit. They ended up moving him from his position. I told him that I am amazed how the intelligent people of Egypt could make you their Mufti! Anyway he was moved to the position of Sheikh Al Azhar and as I mentioned relations between the two countries grew and improved after this collision. May God bless him and grant him all goodness, how he’s changed now! I never heard from him since that time any other fatwa like that. But if you only knew, if I was not a cross, I would have fallen into his temptations!” he says with amusement. “We return to say again that understanding is a thousand concerns and every concern requires a thousand resolves. Understanding is a grave responsibility. How many sayings of the Prophet are there, how many examples are there in the Quran about this?” he asks.

Then turning his attention to our new guest he says, “Sheikh Badyani is one of our dear friends. He traveled through many areas of Syria and visited with several scholars and sheikhs to study the principles of the Shia. One time he came to visit me and he spent two hours with me. This visit made his mind whirl, just like Shamsuddin. There was a small booklet that clarified Sufi principles and the pure knowledge as it relates to the Alawis. This booklet was just nineteen pages. After these two hours he left and did not return until two years later. He resolved not to see me again until he had realized something that he understood. When he returned to us he came with six volumes of work that explains the Gnostic principles of the Alawis. Doesn’t he deserve a reward for this?” he asks Kabir. “Yes? What do you think, would Congress ratify this?” he asks jokingly of Kabir. “So in this way this Iranian sheikh became one of the doctors of creativity in our union of writers in Arabic.

“So when are we going to discuss your doctorate?” he asks Kabir, “here or in America? Or maybe in the Hague in the International Court of Justice? The Queen of Holland can grant it to you.”

Here Bassem interjects, “You like the Queen very much.”

Dr. Ali nods, “Yes, by God I do. I really appreciate her. I spoke about her two or three times on Syrian Satellite TV. She has some great stands on issues. For example, she will not accept unresolved conflict within her realm. One time the deviant Muslims and the Sufis had a conflict and she told the Sufi sheikhs that they had to either resolve their conflict with the deviant Muslims or leave Holland . So the Sufi sheikh ascended the pulpit and said to the radicals, ‘Brothers, may God help you and strengthen you! This is a great matter indeed. This matter resembles the spirit of Surah Al Kafirun; you have your religion and I have my religion.’ Imagine this! God with the tongue of His Prophet made the infidelity of the deniers a religion! He didn’t insult them or ridicule them. Imagine this respect, even for the beliefs of people like these. This is democracy, this is the democracy of the People of the Household (Prophet Muhammad and his family).

“But let us return to the question of understanding. I went into seclusion on the first day of Muharram and just came out today and during all that time neither Hussein nor Christ allowed me to participate in any public commemoration of Ashura. I was occupied by the presence of Christ and Hussein together and I listened and I heard from them and I wrote a book about their meeting together and how they talked together. And what is the common word between them? It is sacrifice. We don’t want just talk. We don’t want acting. We want practical, effective action. Here is Kabir Helminski from California in America , he wants to know, and he wants to transmit knowledge, so he brings himself all the way from America and honors us here. He gives matters their proper due. It is not like someone who lives right here next to me who tells me: ‘Oh I am really busy I have company and I can’t attend your talk today.’ So here is practical action, the common word. Christ, he is the common word: sacrifice. Hussein, he is the common word: sacrifice. I sacrifice myself for the world. I sacrifice myself for my grandfather’s community. They did as they said; the common word is action, action, action.

“The word is not just letters. If you take the word HARF in Arabic and read it from the other direction it is FARAH, or joy. The word is not meant to deaden. Christ says the letter slays but the spirit brings to life, the spirit is the heart , when you revert to it, you find joy. In the teachings of religious law, Sharia, you know, people imagine that because we are Sufis that we have abandoned Sharia but this is not correct. In our view Sharia is the source of happiness. How? Its letters are SH-R-`A. If you enter from its heart (the inverse) it becomes `ARSH, or throne. This means Sharia carries you to the Throne which encompasses the heavens and earth.

“This is for today, entering into the heart is essential,” he says in a low voice as he reflects upon the words. Then turning to Sheikh Badyani he smiles and says, ‘You have good luck with Americans! He is Iranian and the last time he was here we had another American guest, Mr. Brian Cox, from California also and they were very happy to meet each other, and we had an Iraqi with us too. He was delighted, Iraq , Iran and America together! This is Abrahamic, this is Abrahamic! But we don’t know who is who, the Abrahamics are the Musawis (of Moses), the Issawis (of Jesus), and Muhammadis (of Muhammad). I think the Iranians are the Musawis because Ayatollah Khomeini used to refer to himself as Ruhullah Al Musawi.”

As one of the guests gets up to leave we get up to say goodbye and Dr. Ali recounts a story about him: “When I was a nursing infant, his grandfather, who was my mother’s relative, came to visit, and my mother asked him to give me my name. Now his grandfather was Sheikh Asaad Ali, a great scholar and astronomer. Well, he told my mother that my name was Kamil. My mother told me that as soon as she started calling me Kamil I cried, and when she tried to nurse me I refused. So I remained on civil strike crying and refusing to nurse until his grandfather’s sheikh, whose name was Habib Eid, came and placed his index finger between my eyes and said to my mother, ‘No, your son’s name is not Kamil, his name is Asaad,’ and I accepted that I am Asaad (happiest), not Kamil (complete). This is why I seek the Kamils (the complete ones) because I am incomplete. If I were Kamil everyone would be after me. No it is better for me to continue seeking knowledge, to stay incomplete so that I will always be seeking completion. His grandfather put me on the cross. I continue to think about the Complete One; it is true I am incomplete but I keep thinking how can the human being become complete?

“And what’s the name of your new center in California?’ Dr. Ali asks, and Kabir replies, ‘It’s a Spanish name, Casa Paloma, the House of the Dove.”

Dr. Ali repeats, “The dove! Nice.”

Kabir continues, “It’s a beautiful place, it has a fountain and a courtyard — ”

Dr. Ali interrupts, “I am waiting for permission from…” and he points with his finger upwards.

Kabir continues, “It has two houses and a meeting place which is a yurt. And from this land you can see the ocean.”

Dr. Ali smiles, “Oh Peace, oh Peace, how tempting!” he exclaims and laughs. “I am patient with the uncertainty of times, a cross!” he exclaims.

Kabir continues, “If you want to see an earthly reflection of Jannah, come to Casa Paloma. It was interesting because when we were buying the property there were many stages of bargaining and negotiations, but the day the deed was recorded was the day of the Urs of Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi.”

Dr. Ali raises his head, “The day you called me maybe, the three of you,” he says. ” That day I was remembering you and I told you I had something very special with you when you called.” He then gets up and asks us to go with him to the dining room. There on the bookshelves he points to a large volume of books bound in light green covers with a white dove. “The dove is the symbol of Fatima,” Dr. Ali tells us pointing to the books, “Fatima , the Radiant! Do you see the connection, the bond that is between us?” We gather beneath the books and take some photographs. Soon it’s time for us to go back to the hotel; it’s a short time till dawn breaks.