Zaytuna co-founder, Hamza Yusuf wrote: “The Abrahamic religions are rooted in the mystery of time.”50 You see the sun setting and the moon taking its place. You think quickly, “did I make wudu?” You run to the door, slip on a pair of shib shib or chupples – flip flops basically - and you walk under the shade of the vines. There is a mist in the air that cools your lips. You walk on the concrete at first but then decide to go barefoot, through the long grass and the dew from the mist washes between your toes.
You arrive in the bathroom and there you make sure that you are in state of ritual purity. It has been a busy day full of both the good and the bad and you want to be pure. First the hands – for what you did that day, then the mouth – for what you said that day, then the nose – to cleanse your soul, then your face - so that you shine to the angels that gather around for prayer time, then your arms up to your elbows, then your ears and over your head to your neck. You finish by washing each foot. You have made wudu, what billions of Muslims do everyday all around the world. What the millions do in the USA everyday all around the country. You must come to prayer and acts of worship clean and sober.51
Then the teacher arrives. The air is filled, as you expected with the smell of the burning Ud tree. He whisks briskly up to the front of the class. All the students have arranged themselves. Some that were offering extra prayers finish and then get situated. The class begins. He begins with a small prayer whose structure is simple – praising Allah – the omnipotent One with no partners and None like Him, praising His humble servant and Last Messenger, and then praying for your teachers, family, and finally for yourself.
The wiry and sun worn Mauritanian Shaikh Salek arrives like a finely tuned timepiece to call the adhan, the announcement that the prayer will commence shortly, and then the more immediate, iqama – that prayer will commence now. You will break to pray Magrib, or the prayer that happens just after sunset, and he will offer precisely the same Surahs, or chapters of the Qu’ran, every time he does it in class, so that if you are paying careful attention to his recitation, you can learn to recite them by listening – and if you are committed student, you will learn by doing it later, and then learn by writing it, and then learn by teaching. None of us truly knows anything unless we can teach it to someone else.
Halfway through the class you notice that some people are moving faster than others. You find yourself in the middle and look to your faster and slower neighbors to either catch up or support them. The teacher does not move to another lesson unless the class has sufficiently moved forward together. You have learned a visceral lesson an aspect of Islam that is essential to understanding the ecological nature of the Qu’ran, that is the concept of Tawhid, or oneness. Since you know Islam is monotheistic, and you accept that there is nothing else worthy of worship but Allah, that part is simple. But Tawhid also has an all-inclusive aspect to it – in this class the whole of the class is one. So moving forward must proceed with all literally on the same page.
As you grow deeper into the study of the Arabic you find that your eyesight sharpens. Not the sharpness of someone that does not need glasses – you still need those – but you see and focus on different things. As the instructor writes you subconsciously pick out letters and can sound them out, you see phrases and can identify them quicker, and you see the structure of possession so that you can begin to make out sentences. It is then that you begin to make out more and more of the different signs in nature and in the Earth that perhaps you may not have seen before.
As class comes to a close you linger in the line of those waiting to ask the instructor a question. In the meantime you are meditating on what it felt like to be there, yet another time, focusing your vision, and most importantly orienting your soul.
The instructor has always been careful to tell the class that the prerequisite is to come to the Qu’ran (or any religious text for that matter) with your heart – not your mind. We use our minds everyday all day. For you it was initially hard but he challenged you to think WITH your heart. You live in such a cerebral world that can rationalize near anything. He offered a parable of a person coming up with a reason to kill someone. While the mind would be able to plot and execute this act, our heart would have us shaking and convulsing at simply thinking of it. Because you have ever gotten into a fight then your knew what he was talking about. You could tell yourself anything with your mind, and you can be totally justified, but your heart will still hate the fact that you engaged in violence – you would tremble, feel terrible even though your rational mind made complete sense out of it. Your heart houses your addictions, your compulsions, your inner truths, even your illusions. We can rationalize and intellectualize all of those things to be truths, or that we have our addictions under control, that we even have our emotions under control, or that our illusions are real, and our hidden truths no longer exist – but our heart, our heart forces the truth out – always. Your heart never lies; it is the most connected organ to your soul.
A learned Yemeni once said, Qur’an does not mention the brain at all yet repeatedly mentions the heart, over one hundred times in fact.52 For a serious seeker studying the Qu’ran as evidence of an Omnipotent God who has done nothing less than properly apportion you for the environment, order the stars and planets into fixed orbits, make an invisible energy field called gravity keeping everything in its place on Earth, make plants and animals our friends, protectors, and sustenance, and rain water on us so that our bodies stay moist – oh and perfectly position your heart in relationship to all your other organs so that you can live – plus making your soul and literally everything else: time, love, feelings. The Qu’ran, to Muslims is His last message. The heart is the seat of all this knowledge and wisdom.
You know that our hearts need healing. We are addicted to a pollution-based way of living, an economic system that is focused more on consumption than well being - of course we can rationalize this approach to the management of water, waste, energy, and food, but not when you thinking with your heart. This sort of heart-based approach will disallow you to rationalize your actions – because then you have to feel AND think about them. As you wait to speak with the teacher you look around you at the empty class. At the light bulbs sucking energy probably from a coal powered plant, you hear car driving away with students in oil powered vehicles – oil derived from a war torn place and extracted with no thought as to what would be the consequence for the air and the natural environment. It becomes very clear that what we are doing to our natural world is a shame, it is simply wrong, and there is a better way to operate.
Me and my Mom :)