Archive for August, 2013

Ibn Tulun, the Fatimids and feeding the poor during Ramadan

August 17, 2013

Bismillah. I have just returned from a brief visit to Israel & the West Bank. The visit was the first half of the excellent Study Tour organised by FODIP UK (www.fodip.org) with Mejdi Tours of Jerusalem. More on that later, but here is a short extract from a 2013 publication by the White Mosque, Nazareth (al-Jami’ al-Abyad, al-Nasirah), that we came across during our travels:

It is said that the Emir Ahmad bin Tulun, founder of the Tulunid state in Egypt, initiated the Dining-Spread of the Merciful (Ma’idat al-Rahman) in Egypt during the fourth year of his reign. He invited leaders, merchants and notables to an iftar party during the first days of Ramadan and addressed them thus:

“The only reason I have gathered you here is to teach you how to be kind to people. I know that you do not need the food and drink that I have prepared for you, but I find that you have forgotten your duty of kindness during Ramadan. Thus, I command you to open up your houses, extend your dining-spreads and stock these with your favourite foods so that deprived poor people may also taste them, throughout Ramadan.”

Others say that the Fatimid Caliph al-Mu’izz
Li Dinilllah was the initiator of charitable banquets: he established a daily Ramadan dining-spread for the congregation of the ‘Amr bin ‘As Mosque to break their fasts: 1100 pots of different foods would be sent from his palace daily to be distributed amongst the poor.

(From Jami’una al-Abyad or Our White Mosque, Nazareth, 2013)

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Mirrors

August 1, 2013

Bismillah. The Prophet, peace be upon him, taught: al-mu’min mir’at al-mu’min – “the believer is the mirror of the believer.”

This morning, I read a mind-boggling commentary on this teaching from Ibn ‘Arabi, of which more later.

But first, here is a traditional explanation of the hadith, adapted slightly from Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Hasan in his Way of the Prophet:

In this Hadith, a believer has been declared to be the mirror of another believer. This is a profoundly meaningful comparison. Keeping this comparison in mind, the following aspects of a believer’s relationship with another believer become apparent:

 (1) A mirror reflects only those spots and stains that actually exist. It neither reduces nor enlarges them.

(2) The mirror only reveals spots and stains when the face is present. If the person goes away, the tongue of the mirror is silenced.

(3) We have never heard of anyone becoming annoyed or angry at seeing their spots and stains in the mirror. On the contrary, we see that people gratefully keep the mirror in a safe place so that it may used when needed later.

(4) The mirror only reveals the spots and stains when it is level with the person’s face. If the mirror is above or below the face, it does not serve its essential purpose.

Instead of simile and metaphor, it can be stated in plain words that through the comparison with the mirror, the Messenger of Allah (may God bless him and grant him peace) has given us four pieces of guidance:

(1) If there is a need to mention a person’s defect, it should only be described as far as it exists.

(2) The defect should be mentioned in the person’s presence, not behind their back.

(3) If someone informs us of a defect or criticises us, we should be grateful to them instead of being annoyed with them.

(4) When a sincere adviser or critic criticises, he should neither show himself as greater and higher, nor use flattery and sycophancy [to be lower].

Now onto Ibn ‘Arabi: al-Mu’min (the Source or Guardian of Faith) is also a Name of God [Qur’an 59:23]. Hence, the hadith also means:

a) “The believer is the mirror of God” and

b) “God is the mirror of the believer.”

Explanations:

a) A person of pure faith has annihilated the ego and inculcated godly or saintly qualities such that the person’s heart and being is filled with (faith in) God, so God and other people only see a reflection of God in the person.

b) Since the World (the Universe or Nature) is also a locus or place of the reflection of God’s Names, and the human is a microcosm of the universe (the macrocosm), the believer learns about himself/herself through experiencing life, looking at the world and God’s action in it.  This teaching is related to the one that “a believer sees by the light of God”: s/he also sees by the multiple, renewed reflections of God’s light.