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Sufism - Reflections on Life and Death

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by Admin Singh, Jan 9, 2006.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    Admin SPNer

    Jun 1, 2004
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    As a fundamental fact of human existence, death is a theme that is common to both poetry and prophecy. While these two universal genres of discourse differ significantly, both confirm the importance of the remembrance of death (dhikr al-mawt).
    The Koran has been described as an Apocalypse, a grand vision of the eschaton, the end of time. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) often spoke solemnly of "the taste of death." Once, passing by a gathering of merrymakers, he said, "Disturb your laughter by recalling the spoiler of pleasures!" "And what is the spoiler of pleasure?" they asked. "Death."

    Consider now Persian poetry. Omar Khayyam - who was as popular in Victorian England as Rumi is in contemporary America - ruminates frequently about death. Among his rubayyat - some of which Murshid put to music - one reads (in the version of Fitzgerald):

    Awake for Morning in the Bowl of Night
    Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
    And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
    The Sultan's turret in a Noose of Light.

    Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky,
    I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
    "Awake my Little ones and fill the Cup
    Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."

    And as the Cock crew those who stood before
    The Tavern shouted - "Open then the door!
    You know how little time we have to stay
    And, once departed, may return no more."

    At first blush, the messages of the Prophet Muhammad and the poet Omar Khayyam seem contradictory. The Prophet says "disturb your laughter," while the poet says "fill the cup." One seems to command sober introspection, while the other recommends joie de vivre.

    Yet perhaps the two messages are not as inconsistent as they appear. No doubt the tone is different - as Nietzsche would put it, one is Apollonian and the other Dionysian. Nonetheless, both call the hearer to awaken in the here and now. The hadith of the Prophet is about the superficiality of frivolity. Incapable of true joy, the merrymakers fritter away precious moments in vulgar, self-absorbed inanities. The best cure for them is the remembrance of the mortality of the body. Similarly, Omar Khayyam invokes the looming presence of death as a reminder to live life to its fullest. Wine, the fermented juice of crushed and mingled grapes, bespeaks the nectar of life, the sweet and intoxicating essence of human experience. Drink in now, he urges, this very moment.

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