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Diasporic Musings

April 14, 2018

When You Can Only See in Gray

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — fatemaelbakoury @ 2:39 pm

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I was incredibly moved by The Conference of the Birds. I felt that the flaws (or excuses) that each of the birds possessed were in some ways my own; particularly the false modesty of the finch and the longing for the sea of the heron. Too often, I have longed for what was not meant to be mine. Upon receiving it, God has shown me through the trauma it caused why He did not want me to have it in the first place. The heron’s longing for “adventure” through the sea might actually be harmful to it, but instead of trusting God’s wisdom, the heron question’s God’s love for him. I, too, have made that same mistake. The false modesty of the finch also spoke to me: conflating a belief in modesty with deep-seated cowardice is a subconscious mistake I make constantly. Learning to parse the two out has shown me that I pretend that I am not worthy of God’s love as a way to obviate the necessary journey I need to go, despite that fear.

In this drawing, I depicted all the birds (except for the hoopoe, who is emerging from the Tree of Knowledge to relay the Simourgh’s messages) in gray to signify all of this lacking enlightenment. They are all tethered to the world through their fears. Behind them is the valley of deprivation and death, behind which is the sea. In order to reach the “divine ocean” they must first traverse the trials and tribulations of this world. I wrote the three stages of the Nafs as signifiers of the journey they will have to endure before experiencing the sublime of the ocean: nafs amara, nafs lawamma, and nafs mutma’ina.* The first stage is written in the sky to signify the arrogance of the worldy disposition, and the second stage is closer to the ground to represent the increasing humbleness, while nafs mutma’ina is written so close to the ground because one has finally understood their place in the world as a mere being. First, they will have to confront their vices before they can face themselves and lead a life of tranquility and peace, with faith in God’s vision for their lives.

Coloring the birds in shades of gray also represents the limited view they have of the world: the color is all around them, but their excuses render them incapable of perceiving the world’s beauty beyond the fulfillment others can provide them with. To see in gray is to only see color when everything goes according to one’s plan. To see in color is the be able to recognize hues and shades even when everything feels gray. This worldview is one that the birds are lacking, but I see it as the ultimate goal of the Sufi mystic. The hoopoe asks, “What matters more, the body or the soul?/ Be whole, desire and journey to the Whole.” One cannot be whole without journeying to the soul.


*nafs mutma’ina is spelled incorrectly in my illustration.

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