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Shoreline Submission

May 1, 2018

Thoughts of a Young Hawk

Filed under: Uncategorized — irajdealwis @ 4:13 am



My grandfather told me that he had met the King of birds: the Simurgh. He was a still a young hawk when the hoopoe dreamed of such a thing, and they made their long journey, through dusk, cold nights and clear mornings, all together, alone and in twos. When they returned, everyone said how they had each come back changed, and they made a habit of meeting regularly, remembering their troubles and teaching their children, and their children’s children, and I am one of these. I am a young hawk  now, you’d say I am somewhere in my early twenties, and I occasionally went to these meetings growing up and recently started paying attention to them. They say that seeing the Simurgh fills you with hope and purpose, because you feel His love, and as I get older I am looking for something to fill that hole. Every time I go for prayers, I hope that someone would say “let’s go see the Simurgh again,” but no one has ever done this.




Once a week every Sunday evening, when the sun is not too hot, and yet the air is warm and soft under my wings, my grandfather and I fly to our prayer circle. He glides on gentle puffs of air and I all around him. My grandfather can glide through almost any wind, and know exactly how long it will take before a storm will reach us, and he knows the best places for shelter. I don’t talk to him on our Sunday afternoon journey though. He gets very annoyed.  The prayers start exactly at four thirty and the hopoe, even though he is old, still starts:

“ In the name of the most merciful and compassionate one.”

He reminds us that our intention should be to attain the highest spiritual state, and to ask that he makes the path easy, and that we are not tempted from the path. I repeat after him softly under my breath. I close my eyes tight and hear the words fill my breast.

The heart of ritual prayer is when we fly in a large circle, all of us ina tight circle, and unbroken ring, keeping pace and circling. In every round we repeat a name of one of our kings and at the end of each cycle we fly a little higher, till we have said every name and we are soaring above the world, and the trees dissolve into fields, the mountains look like things of play, and the rivers like lines of split ink. We do this seven times. When we start my voice is always over the place, thinking of things I need to do, and what meal we will all share after prayer. My voice asks what next I will do and where next I should wonder. I turn and turn around filling my mind with the names of God, and turning each name into a long song, silencing the voices one by one. In time I feel as clear as the air at dusk far above the world of animals and men. I go home with a silent mind.



Every Friday we go to hear the hopoe speak, and the owl, peacock and others who went on the journey. They come together on the branches of a tree, an old peach tree, in the late afternoon. The hoopoe usually speaks first. He reminds us that God is in everything, and in everyone. He is in the leaves of that are young, bright green and in the leaves gathering to crumble away. Hr id in the seeds, and the pits of fruit,and he is the hollows of trees.

“He is each of you,” the hoopoe declares, “but you must seek and find him, keeping the highest goal in mind, and not settling for anything else.”

When the hoopoe speaks slip in to a tone that’s a mixture of invention and memory, the best of stories. I close my eyes and I try to imagine God with me when I do different things. The owl speaks next and he answers questions, and helps people think through a question and a problem. He is often the one who sits with someone in trouble and help them through it.

“I am really afraid of going to the cliffs and praying alone at night I went once and just sat there all night, I couldn’t say anything, not one prayer. I’m too afraid,” a young nightingale said.

The owl would say, “you must slowly, slowly come to see all the shades of night, and how to confront her fear. When I had a sorrow or fear I could not defeat I’d sit with one of the elfer birds after a meeting and they’d have a story to take me along. On these nights I learnt to think about god, and how to learn the same thing many times over before I remember it. I learnt about how God created the world then and has not stopped since, and that even in the dirt of rivers flowing from cities, he is still creating. I remember my mistakes and repented when the spoke of adaab. If I spent an hour listening, I felt it was an hour of treasures.


Yet as the weeks pass by in the same cycle of prayer, between daily tasks I try to remember the lord and think of the heart and of good intentions. For a while I will remember to do this, and remember to sustain a practice. But again in a few more weeks I’d forget. One cycle of practice learnt and done and then forgotten and replaced. The journey seems to be in the end a weekly performance, a regulation and no more. And though I look forward to the shade of the peach tree I have come to see that in its leaves growing and fading, and under its thick shade, the Simurgh may not be found.







In these short letters, I reflect on the institutionalization of religious life. Prof. Asani showed how even the charismatic authority of Sufi teachers become institutionalized around lineages of literal or spiritual descent, tomb veneration, ritual communities, fixed vocabularies, and systems of practice. I wanted to imagine what it was like for a young bird, growing up guided by those who went on a spiritual journey, and their stories, but still practicing the rituals that the original seekers developed. The rituals and the meditations become the principal means to go on a spiritual journey, than the questions and the adventures. I drew on my own experiences in circles of Sufi practice to think about what types of learning and religious exploration can happen in a institutionalized Sufi setting, and the common limitations of such a practice. How can ritual prayer bring about transformation? How can an almost ritual relationship to a teacher bring about change?

Singer’s faith

Filed under: Uncategorized — irajdealwis @ 3:42 am

Your lust-ridden mind

by Mohideen Baig


Does your sensuous mind suddenly clamour?

Is your soft heart throbbing with fear?


Does your sensuous mind suddenly clamour?

Is it bathed in stains?


Then say with your lips,

I take refuge in the Buddha


Compassion and mercy lies decayed,

Anger and envy lounges nourished.

And now is there tyranny and oppression?

And now have men become beasts?


Then say with your lips,

I take refuge in the Buddha.


Has suffering and hassle twisted you? Contorted your mind?

Has truth been killed out there in the world?

Has that serene and pure heart of yours

Been destroyed by lies and self-deception?

At the precipice of mercy and justice,

Does your heart shudder and turn back?


Then say with your lips,

I take refuge in the Buddha.


To whom can I say my lament?

The man who is suddenly abandoned to loneliness in this world

His heart wanders unbound.

The king of our world is loneliness

And in his reign has love perished,

Drunk on himself man rips apart his own soul,

Having slain and buried the voice of truth,

He hears devotion too shudder and die.


Then say with your lips,

I take refuge in the Buddha.


When even the echoes of love have drifted from the world,

flames of envy roam, and dance and burn,

And a mother’s love sets in to night,

And she places a sword in her son’s hands,

the earth shudders and writhes,

The rivers boil and froth.


Then say with your lips,

I take refuge in the Buddha.

I take refuge in the Dhamma.

I take refuge in the Sangha.

The translation and recitation of this Buddhist devotional poem by a Sufi poet and singer, Mohideen Baig, is my attempt at reconciling the gap between ritual practice and a religious journey. A key theme in Rumi’s poetry is the recollection of the beloved, of the teacher and of God. Why carry out dzikr all the time? What is the transformation that such a devotional practice brings? In this poem, Baig brings his understanding of dizkr to a Buddhist context, while using Buddhist language to talk about mental life to elaborate on the many aspects of the nafs. When the mind takes its many forms of hatred, envy, fear, greed, depression and loneliness, Baig tells his listeners to remember the Buddha who was their teacher. The constant remembrance of a teacher, day to day as the mind shifts, is a central part of daily practice. The poem culminates in the image of a mother arming her son, a common sight during the civil war, and Baig suggests that the storms of our mind, if unchecked by remembrance, are allowed to fester then the damage goes beyond the personal into the political. I found this poem extremely moving to read for it melds two deep doctrines from two faiths: a way of detailing the mental life from Buddhism, and the power of dzikr from Islam.

What I saw in Kataragama

Filed under: Uncategorized — irajdealwis @ 2:27 am

Click me


Be it Rumi, or Hafiz or Attar, a recurring theme in Sufi thought is the imminence of the divine in every aspect of our life, and a critique of the divisions made by systematised religions. While most of these writers don’t continuously harp on the multiplicity of faith, Prof. Asani showed how their thought leads to inclusive practices. My first encounters with Islamic practice happened in a temple in the South of Sri Lanka shared by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and indigenous faiths. The deity shown in the center is venerated as Bodhisattva, the second son of Shiva, as Al-Kidr and as a local mountain deity by the four faiths. As I a child I wandered through the gardens of the temple visiting all shrines. Designing the mosque, as an Islamic space, took me back to this temple where every devotee is forced to respect and acknowledge other faiths, and how such a space can create a deep appreciation for multiplicity.

I need a change!

Filed under: Uncategorized — irajdealwis @ 2:19 am


Click me

In the closing lectures of the class Prof. Asani turned to the struggles that modernity, colonialism and western presence churned in Islamic countries. While we discussed the history of colonialism, reformist programs and nationalism, I feel we left one of the most pertinent and ongoing forms of modernity undiscussed: tourism. People of all skin colours who have left their local settings and cultures, and migrated to cities and middle class lives, often travel through the mode of a tourist. The main purpose of travel is not a journey of change, a pursuit, or a pilgrimage, but a consumptive trip of eating, ogling and laying about. I found a French tourist advertisement of the 1980s, a map of Sri Lanka annotated by a tourist remembering the best places to eat and lounge, and overlaid it with an important pilgrimage route for Sri Lankan Muslims. The pilgrimage begins at the Shrine of Sheikh Osman Waillullah Sahib in Colombo, proceeds to the White Mosque in Beruwala, then to the cave where Sheikh Muhiyadeen Abdul Qadir Jilani is believed to have meditated on a pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak, and finally the Shrine of Pal Kudi Bawa who welcomed Al-Kidzr to the island. A pilgrimage, much like the one described in the Conference of the Birds, promises a journey that is more enriching than one of mindless consumption. I have participated in both forms of travel, and have seen the damage that tourism has wrecked in many sacred places, and by overlaying these two modes of travel I wanted to highlight the stark difference between them. I wanted a single image that could evoke both feelings and force the viewer to compare the difference.


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