WARRIORS + POETS

take me back

no matter where i am. or how much time has passed. no matter the state of my spirit. or the blackness of my heart. no matter how far i have fallen. or how far i have yet to go.

you always — always — bring me back.

اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ

what matters most

there is a surrender that happens at the peak of life, and another at the edge of death, and the two do not weigh the same. there is an abdication when the first glimmer of light is seen on the horizon, and another when the last glimmer is about to fade, and the day between them is not the same.

and how you spend the day matters.

it is said, “to be pious in one’s youth is the style of prophets; in old age even the cruel wolf gives up his cruelty.”

what matters most is what you choose to do when you have everything to lose. what you choose to give up when it means the most to do so. when you decide, when you are young and beautiful and full of youth and life, what matters most to you and what doesn’t.

when you have the riches of Sulayman yet you set your face to the sky –  saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord. when you have the beauty of Yusuf yet you turn from temptation – saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord. when you have the strength and position of Hurr yet you race to Hussain’s side – saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord! when you have the youth of Qasim yet you ready your sword for battle – saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord…

when i examine my life and weigh the years in the balance – have i utilized my riches, my beauty, my strength, the way God meant me to –  or did i not value their worth enough? have i put my head to the ground enough? have i spoken to my Lord enough?

have i squandered my youth in desire and play? have i kept my Lord for my old age? have i understood the frailty of this world enough?

. . . there is a surrender that happens at the peak of life, and another at the edge of death. and there is a lifetime in between. and how we choose to spend that lifetime – how we choose to spend each day – matters.

make it matter.

everyone except us

hugo writes, “curiosity is a form of gluttony. to see is to devour.”

few exist the cannibals of the flesh, but many the cannibals of the soul. many, who spend their evenings by the fireside, slavering over the slabs of a fellow man’s spirit, the blood of a fellow man’s struggle dripping from their lips. many, for whom the call – “will any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother?” (49:12) is drowned out by the gnawing of their teeth – persistent, searching ever more and more, consuming with frenzy the appetite of who dids and what dids; eyes wild, mouth gaping, ingesting, feasting, destroying.

what is it in us that is so drawn to the destruction of another human being? what is it, that makes us gather as if in mobs around the guillotine, ready to point! shout! condemn! the man we have dragged to his knees on the stage? is it, perhaps, the hope that the louder our voice and angrier our snarl, the more hidden our own slips and errors will become? that the more unforgiving our face, the less likely anyone will discover the chink in our own armor – the ugliness which creeps, the darkness that sneaks, the monsters who sleep in the depth of our souls?

how merciless we are – we who sniff out the misdeeds of others solely to uncover and expose them; to drag them from their beds and display them naked in the streets; to show the world with pride, and a ‘praise be to God!’ the impenetrable depth of our purity.

how foolish we are – we who do not know that when we have had our way, when the tears have wracked and broken our victim’s body; when all the fight has left his skin and the crowds disperse; when this creature of God’s remains in the loneliness of the street with no one but the moon to hear the fractures of his sighs; when he reaches down to grasp a handful of dust, and with a pang cries out— ah! this, is what I am! — in that moment, the fallen man becomes more beloved to God than the man who stands on the pedestal: the worshipper made of marble who looks at his figure and thinks: Ah, This Is What I Am.

what a carnival, that we, imperfect creatures, should try each other on the scale of perfection – when God, the Most Perfect, the Most Majestic, the Most Wise, tries us on His scale: with power and with might declaring His wrath; but with such sweetness declaring greater, always greater, His mercy.

oh Lord! it is good that man was not made to be god – for with what a weighty hand would we punish our fellow creation.

we, who do not forgive each other our lapses. we, who shrink from an outstretched hand, a brother caught in the grasp of struggle, trying to extricate himself from its roots. we, who turn away in disdain, afraid the dust on his hands might dirty the hems of our robes. we, who fix our stares on the flaws of others, thinking ourselves immune to their sins. we, who have never been offered the Pharaoh’s kingdom, yet think we would have turned it away; who have never heard the siren’s song, yet think we would have saved our ships from crashing on rocky shores.

we, who think so highly of ourselves, and so little of God, that we think: this world is a test for everyone except us, pride will fall every king except us, Satan’s deceit will trick every worshipper except us, the fire’s flames will touch everyone, except us.

my dear self, for too long has the spyglass of your heart been focused on others, yet never have you turned it inward to the stormy seas of your own soul. leave this charade – this thing of play whose theatre rests on the chests of your fellow man. when the curtain rises and the dialogue shifts to the conversation, the actions, the secrets of your brother – cry out as if their words were knives, stabbing into your very heart. clasp your hands over your ears and flee!

run, like one whose head is caught on fire. let them jeer. let them mock. let them call you the madman, the one who, by one word was made insane.

let them. for there is another world to come. and a greater Judge who waits. and a court whose jury no man will escape . . . where no tongue will remain silent except that it will shudder and tremble, revealing all that it used to do.

“Two men entered a mosque – one, a devoted worshipper, and the other a sinner. When they left the mosque, the worshipper had become a sinner, and the sinner had become sincere. This is because the worshipper entered the mosque while he felt proud of his acts of worship, and his thoughts were preoccupied with that. However, the sinner was thinking remorsefully about his sins, and so he sought forgiveness from Allah from what he had done.” -Imam al-Baqir (a)

burn the dead wood

one of the most important lessons i have learned in the past few years is this: do not make yourself small for anyone else. whether it is with friends, family, or in a romantic relationship – anyone who asks you to fold yourself into a smaller version of you so that they feel more comfortable, is not someone who has your best interests in mind. anyone who asks you to sacrifice pieces of yourself, your principles, or your values, is not someone who hopes for your success. do not minimize your desire for growth to keep someone who feels threatened by that growth a part of your life.

each soul is made for greatness. each human is linked at his or her core to the infinite. the task given: to rediscover that core. to come upon the divine. to live the lessons. to be the best at everything you do.

the time given: one life.

one.

in your personal quest, you must always remain humble. you must never consider yourself to be better than anyone else. but at the same time, you must always remember that you are not less than anyone else either.

unfortunately, there are many people who have either given up on their own growth or feel stuck where they are – and because they don’t know how to or don’t want to move forward, they don’t want anyone else to either. may God guide all of us and inspire each of us to break free of this kind of cycle, and help each and every one of us (especially those of us who are struggling) to do and be better.

it is important to help others see the light in themselves, but in the process, you must not forget to foster your own inner light – by pushing your limits, elevating your thoughts, challenging yourself, exploring every cavern of your being, your talent, and your ability – until you set your life ablaze in brilliant flames and watch as the dead wood burns away… and emerges from the ashes the phoenix your life has been waiting for you to become.

“why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? because it is up to you. there is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. it is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. you were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.

write as if you were dying. at the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. that is, after all, the case. what would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? what could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality? […] why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? […] why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the hope of meaningfulness, and press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?

[…] at its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. it is handed to you, but only if you look for it. you search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then – it is handed to you. […] one line of a poem, the poet said – only one line, but thank God for that one line – drops from the ceiling. Thornton Wilder cited this unnamed writer of sonnets: one line of a sonnet falls from the ceiling, and you tap in the others around it with a jeweler’s hammer. nobody whispers it in your ear. it is like something you memorized once and forgot. now it comes back and rips away your breath. you find and finger a phrase at a time; you lay it down as if with tongs, restraining your strength, and wait suspended and fierce until the next one finds you: yes, this; and yes, praise be, then this.

[…] one of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. the impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. something more will arise for later, something better. these things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. you open your safe and find ashes.

after Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ‘draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.'”

– annie dillard

my life will only rise as high as the people i choose to live it with.

i must not choose to spend my days, wandering valleys.

i must choose mountains.
i must choose air.

i must choose the taste of flight.

the smallest acts

there have been times an infant this has shown
that age does not define how much you know
the wisdom that we look for in the skies
is oft found in the youngest child’s cries

there have been times without having to speak
servants of God managed the greatest deeds
unrecognized by servants of this world
young soldiers in the service of their Lord

such tyrants history had come to see
the likes of which before there’d never been
yet, by this Pharaoh’s reign would come to end—
a infant’s basket down the river bend

such miracles which had not yet been done
Maryam, untouched, had given birth—a son
protect his mother, Isa had been able
words spoken by one resting in his cradle

such darkness had been spread in Karbala
when called a question out Aba Abdillah
an answer given by his infant son
showed clearly who the battle truly won

when tender Ali Asghar raised his arms
eager to save the life of his Imam
it demonstrated no matter your age
we all have our own separate part to play

when his tongue was run over thirsty lips
soldiers of greed found that their choice was this:
repent and turn back from the way they’d come,
or seal their fate with Asghar’s martyrdom

perhaps some men start shuffling their feet
perhaps this truth they slowly start to see
what excuse do they have to truly give
for not letting an infant child live?

what is it, in the gasping of his breath?
what is it, resting on his father’s chest?
that causes seasoned soldiers to grow scared
as if a dark abyss before them stares

without words Ali Asghar sends a message
the only weapon that you need is courage
the smallest acts will always aid the fight
to overcome the darkness with the light

the cries of Ali Asghar reach their ears
the piercing of a soldier’s driving spears
tears making plain the message of Islam
cannot be made separate from the Imam

with tears he strikes such fear into their souls
with tears demanding each of them to know:
his tears are tears that smother flaming fires
his tears are tears that topple grand empires

all murdered but Hussain still stands unbeaten!
before them, Ali Asghar undefeated!
…and so an archer raises up his bow
the coward’s old response to the hero

Hurmala aims towards a small body
and strikes the small neck of the young Ali
goes limp an infant in his father’s arms
blood-red rivers pooling in his palms

and yet, the patience of Hussain remains
in tears towards the sky such words he says
how easy hardships that on me befall
when witnessed in the presence of Allah…

using his sword Hussain then digs a grave
in which this tiny body is to lay
how can the heart hold back its wailing screams
thinking of how small this grave must be…

wails sounding from a mother’s empty arms
for centuries this grief will now live on
until that moment comes on Judgement Day
when every tyrant’s sentence is proclaimed

when angels will scream, wa Museebata!
as brought forth are tyrants of Karbala
an infant’s justice will be realized
appearing with this question in his eyes:

speak of your sins, explain before Allah!
is on your hands, blood of RasoolAllah!
speak as your hearts with terror are now filled—
for what sin with such cruelty was i killed?