Below the fold are the detailed notes of comments I gave at St. Bart’s yesterday in an inter-faith commemoration of 9/11. I began with the Fatihah. The first prayer is from Abdullah Ansari of Herat.
Astaghfirullah, I seek forgiveness from God. I seek forgiveness because people have died. I seek forgiveness because people continue to die. I seek forgiveness because they were killed in my name. Astaghfirullah, they died in my name. In my name as a human being. No more. Not in my name. Not in my name as a man. Not in my name as a New Yorker. Not in my name as a Muslim. Not in my name as an American. Not in my name as a human being.
The Qur’an states that to take a life is to kill the whole community, and to save a life is to save the whole community (5:32). It also says that it was a message given to the Children of Israel as well. It is the only pronouncement from God that the Qur’an recognizes as having been given to all the Abrahamic faiths. People are dying in my name, and I am responsible for that loss. For allowing it to continue. For allowing it to start. There is an awesome responsibility in trying to love your neighbor. That love is difficult before suffering from acts of anger, hatred, and violence. How does one realize that love after catastrophic events?
Faith is clearly one answer. It is not loss that brings us here, but faith. Faith that gives us strength and courage. Faith that allows us to look forward, and upward. I speak here from my faith as a Muslim, one of the Children of Abraham with Jews and Christians. But faith is not limited to us, it is inherent in all the Children of Adam. Jalaluddin Rumi, the famous Muslim mystic, encompasses this thought when he says:
I am neither Christian nor Jew,
Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
I am from neither the East nor the West,
Neither from land nor from water.
My place is placeless.
My trace is traceless.
I put aside duality.
I have seen that the two worlds are but one.
I see the One, I invoke the One.
He is the First, He is the Last.
He is without, He is within.
As we turn to our faith, how do we sustain ourselves?
The question is obviously not being asked in a vacuum, but it is being asked in a void. It five years since September 11. All the horrors and hate I have alluded to, start at, and are somehow related to, that day.
The towers that fell that day cast long shadows. I was born in Manhattan almost a year after the ribbon-cutting; the company my mother works for was one of the first tenants of Tower 1. I never knew New York without the Twin Towers. I would spend time at my mother’s office on school holidays. I grew up in the shadow of the Towers. I wanted my son to spend time in the shadow of the Towers. In an urban jungle, it is rare to find a “tree” that gives such comforting shade. I like the image of the shadow. In the Qur’an, heaven is described as a place with shade, and rivers of milk and honey. The reason I like the image is that a shadow cannot exist without a source of light, the nūr Allah, the Light of God, is what gives us that respite. The Qur’an talks of God’s presence in wonderfully poetic language:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth;
His Light is as a niche in which is a lamp,
and the lamp is in a glass,
the glass is as a glittering star;
it is lit from a Blessed Tree,
an Olive tree neither of the east nor of the west,
the oil of which gives Light though no fire touched it;
Light upon Light;
Allah guides to His Light whom He pleases;
and Allah gives parables for men;
and Allah knows all things.
Art Spiegelman’s latest book is entitled In the Shadow of No Towers; it’s about the psychological and emotional horror of that day. It would be easy to dwell in that shadow; the shadow that comes from the void. There is nothing but darkness there. Looking down; looking behind means you are never looking forward or looking up, looking at the nūr, the light. Only by remembering the light are we illuminated. Rumi talks about his love of God when he says:
This is how I would die into the love I have for you:
as pieces of cloud
dissolve in sunlight.
He began writing after his home was destroyed by the Mongol invasion. He reveled in God’s presence after his loss. He looked forward and upward. He saw the nūr, he saw the light.
We are the Children of Adam; Adam, to whom the angels bowed. Rumi says in another poem:
Anyone that feels drawn,
for however short a time, to anyone else,
those two share a common consciousness.
Watch who avoids you. That too reveals your inner qualities.
The mark of eternity in Adam was not only that the angels bowed to
him, but that Satan wouldn’t.
In the Islamic tradition, angels are being of pure light. They were drawn to Adam, recognizing the Light of God in him. We are the Children of Adam, and that spark, that light is still within us. We are still drawn to the source of that light, seeking it wherever it is, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
By remembering that light, and looking for it constantly, we can find in our heart love. We can save that one life, and save the community. In our name, we can build a better world. Our faith brings us together; our love, past, present, and future, gives us our strength; both faith and love let us live in hope; a promise of a future that we all wish for and strive for. The Qur’an says that righteousness is not simply turning your face to the East or the West, but in giving for the love God; giving to your family, to orphans, to travelers, to those in need, to those who ask. Righteousness is in prayer; it is in keeping your word; it is being patient in adversity; it is being truthful.
As we work towards righteousness, towards that ideal society, let us ask God to continue to give us light to guide us and inspire us. I would like to offer two prayers. The first is from a Muslim mystic, and the second is from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
O Generous one, bestower of bounty,
O Seer who forgives sin,
O Eternal who is apart from our comprehension,
O One who is wihtout peer in essence and attribute,
O Creator who guides those gone astray,
O Omnipotent who is worthy of godhood,
By Your ever-abiding essence,
By Your perfect attributes,
By Your power and majesty,
By Your splendor and beauty,
Give to our souls Your purity.
Give to our hearts desire for You.
Give to our eyes Your light.
Grant us, of Your mercy, what is best.
No tongue is capable of expressing thanks to You.
There is no shore to the ocean of Your grace.
The mystery of Your reality is not revealed to anyone.
Lead us on that road than which none is better.
O Allah, O our Lord, You are peace,
and from You is peace,
and to You returns the peace,
O our Lord, give us life of peace,
and usher us in the abode of peace.
Blessed are You, our Lord, the Most High,
O the Lord of Majesty and Reverence.
AL-LAHUM-MA YA MAWLANA ANTAS-SALAM,
WA ILAYKA YARJI’US-SALAM,
HAY- YINA RAB-BANA BIS-SALAM,
WA ADKHILNA DARAS-SALAM.
TABARAKTA RAB-BANA WA
TA’ALAYTA. YA DHAL-JALALI WAL-IKRAM.