Poetry Friday: An altar where no walls exist;
or, Sticking it to da Man.

h1 March 6th, 2009 by eisha

Rabia al-Adawiyya, a.k.a. Rabia al Basri.This is not a political blog. Or a current events blog. Or even a “here’s Jules and Eisha’s opinions on random stuff” blog. It’s supposed to be, as the byline says, a blog about books.

Okay. But.

Yesterday, as you may have heard, the Taliban bombed the shrine of Sufi poet Rahman Baba in Pakistan. They had warned the locals that the shrine would be destroyed if women continued to visit it, because doing so “promotes obscenity.”

I wanted to call attention to this evil by posting some of Rahman Baba’s poetry today. It turns out it’s hard to find much of his stuff translated into English online, and what I did find… well, honestly, it didn’t quite do it for me.

Instead, as a wee little protest against the oppression of and violence against women under vicious regimes like the Taliban, I’m sharing some poetry from another Sufi poet. A female Sufi poet. Here’s a sample of “In My Soul” by Rabia al Basri, translated by Daniel Ladinsky:

my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church
where I kneel.

Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.

Please click here to read the rest, and see how the lines are supposed to be spaced (dang WordPress). I like the fluid imagery, the idea of all the extraneous things melting away in the face of the one true universal element. At least, that’s how Rabia saw it. And I wish it’s how certain militant fanatics would see it too. I’m not super-religious myself anymore, but I kind of think that the whole point of faith is to make you a better person. Right? Seems like blowing up poet’s graves doesn’t fall under that category. Neither does trying to keep women from visiting said graves. Or getting an education. Or voicing an opinion. Or having a job. Or waiting to get married until they’re freaking adults, already.


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Still here? Maybe you’d like to go see what the other Poetry Friday peeps are up to. Anastasia Suen, fab author in her own right, is hosting at her blog Picture Book of the Day.

13 comments to “Poetry Friday: An altar where no walls exist;
or, Sticking it to da Man.”

  1. What a soulful protest.

    This poem is painfully, exquisitely beautiful. Wow. I’d love to see it written out with those great, swoopy arabesques used in Persian figural calligraphy.

    I’m with you: anytime someone feels the need to bomb an abortion clinic or a mosque or a poet’s gravesite, I’m just thinkin’ their religion isn’t worth spit.

  2. The news item (or any about people whose religion leads them to disregard facts of life) reminds me of a story told about the great (and often hilarious, sometimes great in proportion to his hilariousness) Sufi mystic and Mullah, Nasrudin:

    A neighbor comes to Mullah Nasrudin.

    “Would you lend me your donkey today, Mullah?” the neighbor asks, “I have goods to transport to the next town.”

    The Mullah answers: “I’m sorry, but I’ve already lent her to somebody else.”

    Suddenly the donkey is heard braying loudly behind a wall.

    “You lied to me, Mullah!” the neighbor exclaims, “There is the donkey!”

    “What do you mean?” the Mullah replies indignantly, “Whom would you rather believe, a donkey or your Mullah?”

    Love that poem, Eisha. Thanks!

  3. That last line is a stunner. An altar where no walls or names exist. Will there ever be such a place, not just inside a prayer, but on this earth?

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  5. Loved this post. Well done!

  6. Beautiful poem. Props to you for finding a female Sufi poet!!

  7. Oh, Word, Eisha.
    I posted about Pakistan myself today but not so powerfully as this. I love this…

  8. Eisha — Thanks for posting. This is an important conversation. Here is one thing from Rahman Baba’s poetry that I do like, but I suppose it doesn’t sit well with people who bomb mausoleums:
    “Sow flowers so your surroundings become a garden/
    Don’t sow thorns; for they will prick your feet… /Humans are all one body,
    Whoever tortures another, wounds himself.”

  9. Exquisite poem–wow! It really touched my heart, especially as violence increases in Pakistan and I wonder if I’ll ever feel safe enough as an American traveler to visit my relatives who live there–and as I worry about their safety.

    Thanks for posting this one.

  10. Thank you for bringing poetry and its hope to such disturbing news.

  11. Wow. Thank you so much for posting that poem. (And for getting political!)

  12. Thanks, all.

    Tanita, WORD.

    JES, that’s a great story. I’m gonna have to go with the donkey.

    sara, I dunno. People are awfully attached to their talismans and totems and such.

    Thankee, Kelly.

    jama, she’s even a Sufi saint – or the equivalent. Who knew?

    Liz, your post is plenty powerful. I love it too.

    Julie, that IS a great snippet. Thanks for finding it!

    aquafortis, Pakistan has been scaring me a lot lately, what with the “truce” they made with the Taliban. Seems like a very bad plan. I hope to goodness one day it’ll be safe enough to visit, and I really hope your relatives are safe as well.

    Thanks, Jeannine and Laura. Glad you don’t mind the ranting. I promise not to do it too often. Well, no I don’t.

  13. Thanks for sharing this Eisha. What a great image of prayer. This is just the right response to such horrendous crime.

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