For this first day of Ramadan 2017, I offer this poem by Mahmoud Darwish with its universal message and its emotional call for compassion.
By Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Fady Joudah
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me … and I forgot, like you, to die.
Today is the first day of Ramadan, and so I’m posting a poem from Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (no claims on the translation) , but first this eloquent quote from Seyyed Hossein Nasr on the subject of this month of fasting:
A person who fasts with complete faith becomes aware very rapidly that he is a pilgrim in this world and that he is a creature destined for a goal beyond this material existence. The world about him loses some of its materiality and gains an aspect of “vacuity” and transparence which in the case of the contemplative Muslim leads directly to a contemplation of God in His creation.
The ethereal and “empty” nature of things is, moreover, compensated by the appearance of those very things as Divine gifts. Food and drink which are taken for granted throughout the year reveal themselves during the period of fasting more than ever as gifts of heaven (ni’mah) and gain a spiritual significance of a sacramental nature.
Rumi Poem for Ramadan
O moon-faced Beloved,
the month of Ramadan has arrived.
Cover the table
and open the path of praise.
O fickle busybody,
it’s time to change your ways.
Can you see the one who’s selling the halvah—
how long will it be the halvah you desire?
Just a glimpse of the halvah-maker
has made you so sweet even honey says,
“I’ll put myself beneath your feet, like soil;
I’ll worship at your shrine.”
Your chick frets within the egg
with all your eating and choking.
Break out of your shell that your wings may grow.
Let yourself fly.
The lips of the Master are parched
from calling the Beloved.
The sound of your call resounds
through the horn of your empty belly.
Let nothing be inside of you.
Be empty: give your lips to the lips of the reed.
When like a reed you fill with His breath,
then you’ll taste sweetness.
Sweetness is hidden in the Breath
that fills the reed.
Be like Mary – by that sweet breath
a child grew within her.
Another poem for Ramadan, entitled “Ramadan,” by Kazem Ali. This one plays with the concept of “the Night of Power,” or Laylat al-Qadr, the night in Ramadan where the heavens are opened for prayers to be answered, a night filled with angels, inhospitable to djinn or other evil influences. This night is not named directly, but the fact that one never knows exactly which night it will be is clear in the poem.
By Kazim Ali
You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s
nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?
If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.
Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,
the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—
The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—
You are never going to know which night’s mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night’s recitation is secretly mere wind—
For this month of Ramadan, I will post a few poems on the subject of Ramadan, or something related, starting with this poem by Khaled Mattawa:
BY Khaled Mattawa
My mother forgets to feed her animals
because it’s only fair.
She rushes to them when
she hears hoarse roosters crowing
and billy goats butting
over a last straw.
This month the moon becomes a princess.
The stars fan her,
Jupiter pours cups of wine,
Mars sings melancholy mawals.
Bearded men holding prayer beads
and yellow booklets stare at her
and point aching fingers at her waist.
In our house we break a fast
with dates from Huun
and glasses of buttermilk.
Then on to bowls of lamb soup
flavored with mint, trays
of stuffed grape leaves,
spiced fava beans drenched
in olive oil and lemon juice.
And that is only the beginning.
The spirits of Johnny Walker and gin
hide in the trunks of white Peugeots.
In the nightclubs of my city, waiters
serve only non-alcoholic beer
and belly dancers cover themselves.
Father of sixteen children, our neighbor
visits bringing two kilos of baklava.
He washes them down with a dozen
demitasses of sweet sage tea.
Before dawn he runs to one
of his two wives, both named Salma,
and loves her hurriedly,
his hands barely touching a breast.
NOTES: A Mawal is an unaccompanied improvisarional vocal solo regularly performed by singers of traditional Arabic music to show their poetic as well as singing prowess.