Thursday, September 5, 2013

Greetings from Al-Andalus: Contemplation (1)

My journey to Al-Andalus -  the Medieval Islamic empire that covered what is now Spain, Portugal, and the Southern bit of France -- was something I'd booked with hardly a second thought a few months ago. It was a historical tour of Islamic Spain with Sh. Abdullah Hakim and guided by Andalucian Routes. After a quick browse of the website and an additional week in Morocco added to supplement the time we would spend in Spain, it was booked and almost forgotten.

In the days leading up to my departure, I found myself in a such a hectic frenzy of obligations, I hardly had the time to reflect on what I was doing. I didn't pack until the night before and I barely checked our itinerary until the day of our actual flight. I relied on my friends to tell me when to be at the airport -- and for someone as OCD about flight times and details as I am, this was just something else. I wanted to avoid this kind of frenzy, this mindless onward push through life, but there I was yet again, in the midst of it all, barely breathing. 

“[Those] Who remember Allaah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], 'Our Lord! You did not create this aimlessly…'” [Quran 3: 191]

Contemplation. This is what leads us from one peak of our life to the next. It's what guides us out of our valleys, up onto the rocky sides of mountains we don't think we can climb, to the brief plateaus where we marvel in awe, in grief, in submission, and up, up, up to the highest point of our lives. 

Life pulls you on and on and sometimes it pulls you so far in, you are pulled apart. You wake each morning and you fulfill your obligations in a state of numb disarray; you do because you must, or simply because it's what you've always done. A litany of destination points stretch out before you--you will meet each one and then you will move on to the next and you will go on doing and doing. And the years will pass. 

There is a point high above you on the horizon that you never reach -- perhaps you're not even aiming for it. It's a point that remains in your peripheral vision all your life, and though you can see it, you don't always know how to get there. Sometimes the desires of the self, rather than the soul, lead you down other routes. Other times you are lost in the syncopated rhythm of life, every step another beat in an unknown direction. But that point was placed for you in your line of vision and it never moves -- in His wisdom, it's there even when we look the other way. When we turn towards it, He pulls us in. It's the point that leads us home, to Him, to the kind of fulfillment that holds your heart and fills it with light.  

Our hearts -- our hearts -- they are strong and resilient, but when they are in a state of pained existence, or worse, when the heart is in a state of such worn fatigue that it simply wants to lie flat in a plane of nothing, because in the absence of everything at least it can find rest -- in this state, the rest of the body suffers, the minds suffers, and the soul--it wants to flee. Because truly, how does one exist when nothingness replaces your heart? 

Al-Andalus was a point placed on my horizon and when I reached it and looked up, I felt my heart unfurl in the way a leaf uncurls itself to soak in the morning light--hesitant, but so eager for nourishment. I am no great human being; none of us deserve the blessings we receive; they come to us in blinding waves of mercy from Him because even as we cradle our own hearts in fear, even as we build fortresses around our hearts in a desire to protect, He knows our hearts more than we do. He knows, and so He gives. 

I do not want to be the traveller who stands before the wonders of His creation and can only see the inside of her own mind. To contemplate the state of your heart and relate what you see to your own life, desires, and purpose is beneficial. But left unbalanced, it can very quickly draw you into a vacuum where you trap yourself inside your own struggles and fail to truly see the blessings that have been placed before you and the responsibility that has been laid gently, but pointedly into the palm of your hand. If you do not lift your head to breathe, you will miss the brilliance of how the world works so beautifully, you will miss the warmth that exists between your fellow beings, you will miss the miracles. 

Contemplation. This is an all-encompassing act - it combines the necessity of inner reflection with the twin necessities of external connection and individual action. Contemplation stirs the heart so it can beat in the world again, purposefully, with direction. It is what allows us to receive the blessings we are given with humility and gratitude. 

“[Those] Who remember Allaah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], 'Our Lord! You did not create this aimlessly…'” [Quran 3: 191]

He did not create all this, or us, aimlessly. Every moment has a purpose. Our lives sometimes seem like maps of scattered constellations -- how do we make sense of it all? But there is wisdom in the way our lives spin out before us, wisdom that we don't understand until we're standing at the edge of the map looking back and taking everything in. Only at the edge of not knowing can we look back and see so clearly how everything in our lives is laid out in precision, how every moment had a distinct purpose and that we are brought to where we are by virtue of a thousand moments that only He could place in our path.

I pray these records of my contemplations in Al-Andalus will be ways of striving towards an understanding of our ultimate purpose. May they be sources of goodness for me, and for others, InshaAllah (God Willing).