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Traditional Islamic Resources

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Oct. 16th, 2014 | 02:14 pm

Since I am in a period of questioning regarding whether or not I should try for a more social exploration of spirituality than I have been doing for the past few years, one of the things I have been doing is to review the resources that I have as a result of my involvement with NAJ.

Among these is the collection of Illahis, recorded as Chamber of Mystic Hymns. My first exposure to these came through my NAJ teacher in Atlanta, in the form of cassette tapes. I still have the cassettes, but working cassette players are getting harder to come by. One of the dervishes, however, has uploaded the hymns to iTunes, where they are available via podcast. I downloaded the recordings and have burned them to disc to play at home and in the car.

Another resource, of course, is Atom from the Sun of Knowledge (from which I borrowed the title of the book's first part as the title of this entry). I also have the Salawat and Wird. Folded within my copy of the Wird was a handwritten set of instructions from my NAJ teacher in Atlanta. When I was in Atlanta, my teacher joined Shaykha Fariha and a number of dervishes on a visit to the Jerrahi headquarters in Istanbul. Following that visit, there was a temporary push toward more formalism in the instruction of the dervishes, and these instructions were a result of that. Certain policies and procedures were to be reformed, but it seems that the Shaykha soon abandoned those plans. (One such plan was that the dervishes who had taken hand with the teacher in Atlanta were to take hand again with the Shaykha, but then she said that that wasn't necessary.)

Last night I recited the zikr from the list of instructions. I was struck by a feeling of emptiness: not a positive, open emptiness, but a sense of deflation and a lack of vitality. It could just have been a matter of the sloughing off of old energetic "stuff" that needs to move out. On the other nad, the experience brought me back to a place I was in after I moved here, of not really feeling a strong sense of belonging to the New York circle of NAJ, of being separated from the Atlanta circle, of dutifully following instructions, and of feeling uninspired.

In contrast to these feelings, the recent stepping up of devotional practices, reading, listening to Illahis (including several pop-devotional albums from Bosnia), etc., had led to my feeling as if I were moving closer to a feeling of "flow" of spiritual energies than I had in a while. Going to Rosen and therapy and masjid may have had something to do with this as well.

But last night I once again felt confronted with a sense of failure with respect to seeking and receiving spiritual teaching.

I recalled the feelings of spontaneity and immersion that I had enjoyed from time to time in the Amma org, but I'm not longing for a return of those feelings, and I don't think I could find them again there, or perhaps anywhere at this point. Maybe that was part of a final flowering of delayed or repressed adolescence, and now it is time for a deeper experience of maturity.

There is also a sense in which reaching after a little more intensity can lead to manipulation and emotional abuse, and sometimes worse (physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial ruin, illness, suicide). I think that's why Gail Tredwell's book about her 20+ years in the Amma org was so important for me last year at around this time. Prior to that, David Smail's work on the sometimes misleading ideological claims of therapy, as well as Janja Lalich's book on leaving cults, were useful supports during a period of stepping back from direct involvement with groups, teachers, or therapists for a while.

Nonetheless, I have decided to look around a bit to see if I could find any potentially useful affiliations. The traditional scheduling of the zikrs in the New York circle of NAJ remains a problem for me, as I teach at 8 a.m. on MWF. I did find, however, a Qadiri-Rifai group (a local branch of Taner Ansari's tariqat) that meets once a month on Saturdays. It is within reasonable driving distance. I have contacted the organizers (a Western man and his wife, probably in their 30s or early 40s), and it seems as if it might be an okay place to go. They met this past weekend, while my father was here, so I didn't go: I will try to catch them next month. The wife also teaches yoga and is interested in how fear affects the body. There might be something of interest there.

I also went to the main masjid in my area. I hadn't been there in about 11 years. That was on the day before Eid. I didn't realize that that was typically a day for fasting, so I wasn't fasting. Evidently, some people there were fasting and some were not, as the man who did the announcements after prayers invited everyone to an iftar that evening, whether or not they were fasting. It's very traditional there, and they take everything pretty seriously, but it was nice to be in a multi-ethnic environment and to experience a beautiful athan and prayers that were competently led. The masjid is looking for a long-term imam. Evidently, they have been getting by with one or more interim or guest imams recently. The imam on that day was very well trained, although he tripped up a bit during the recitation during prayers, and some of the people intervened to help him get back on track. The khutbah was fairly heavy, basically on the theme of our being never-good-enough Muslims because of flaws in the purity of our intention and concentration, etc. On the other hand, it wasn't harshly polemical or targeted in a bigoted way against certain groups or whatever, so at least there was a sense of restraint to it.



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