Take a look closely at the painting above, it was painted in 1856 by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky، a Russian landscape painter, he traveled many countries and always painted the most exotic/stereotypical image of the places, his paintings are that of landscapes, but alwasy with characters, they are tiny creature compared to the landscape, but they are detailed to utmost perfection, as if they are dressed for the occasion to be painted by Aivazovsky.
Now and then, when I take a walk in the bazaar of Suli, I always visit one place when it the time for sunset, the place remind me of Aivazovsky’s painting; around The Great Mosque in the center of the city, it was named “The Great Mosque“, because it used to be the biggest mosque in Suli, but it is not a big mosque by any standard of measurement. The place is always crowded, from morning to sunset, full of street peddlers, black marketers, whole-sale traders, and, right in front of the mosque, in the doorway, the place is crowded with Old Men, many of them sell rosary, few of them gather in the place to meet old acquittance or just to have a chat, that is the place in Suli where one can meet interesting people, not those who sit on cafes, tea houses, bookshops, who’s only knowledge comes from books, as they mubo-jumbo their intellectual knowledge to each other, quoting from the best writers, poets and philosophers, rather, in front of The Great Mosque, you meet people who has lived life, they lived the books that we read, and they have many tales to tell.
That is where I meet an interesting old man a few days ago, I say he was an interesting old man, because he was old and he was interested in everything, seem to know everything, yet, never really indulged about anything, for he lived in a world of his own, that of mysticism. He was a Sufi, but don’t imagine him as one dressed in white, with a white and red round hat on his head as most Sufis are imagined, rather, he was dressed in traditional Kurdish cloth, and one could not tell him apart from many others in the crowd.
I stand for at least half an hour in front of the Great Mosque, and just stare at the crowd, it is something that I learned in my script writing class at Film School; you pick out different characters in the crowd, imagine yourself in their place, and you create a narrative based upon the state of emotion they are in; Where was he before? What is he doing now? Where is he going? What is he gonna do next?, etc. I picked one character, then another, and another one, crated a narrative around the, when suddenly our Sufi said to me, “Are you looking for someone?”, as I looked over my right, there he was; frail, old, but always with a smile, he was leaning against the rails, also looking into the crowd, “No, I’m just looking”. I could not help but to ask him the same question, “And, are you looking for someone?”, “No, I’m just looking”.
Noticing his Kurdish dialect, I concluded that he was from Easter Kurdistan (Iranian Kurdistan), and right away, I imagined why he had asked that question, he had thought I was also an Iranian Kurd, for some reason, because of my appearance and also the accent I have when speaking Kurdish, I always get mistaken for Iranian Kurd. To make a long story short, I ended up talking to this old man for more than an hour, one of the most interesting chat I have had in the past few month with a stranger.
He was called Sufi Ali, was born in the city of Mahabad in Iranian Kurdistan, he did not know when he was born, or seemed not to care, “I was a young boy when they hanged Qazi Muhammad”, if he was a young boy in 1947, then he must have been born in 1930s, that make him close to 80 years old, but he did not looked his age, rather younger. Like many young men of his time, he was educated in Hujra (Religious School) in Farsi, he knew by heart the poems of Rumi, Hafiz, and the tales of Saadi Shirazi, and he recited them beautifully in Farsi, but the most interesting thing about him was the fact that he had lived, and still, was living the life of a Sufi on the road, I thought that the roaming Sufi was something of the past, on the edge of extinction, but here was one, he had traveled almost every country in the region; from the Caucasus Mountains to the Sahara. Whenever I tried to ask him how he found shelters, feed and clothed himself, if he ever longed to settle down, to live a normal life, either he would change the subject, or just answer with the same sentence, “God will provide”.
I told him how much I loved the poems of Rumi and how once I was into the whole idea of Sufism, but could never fully accept the notion that one is capable of loving everything. That is when our conversation changed from poetry into philosophy, from what I recall, here is what we talked about:
ME: The one thing that I could never grasp in Sufism is the notion of “Loving everything as loving One”. How could one achieve divine presence, love without condition in a world as cruel as ours? So much senseless suffering one sees every day, yet be capable of loving “All”.
SUFI ALI: Like everything else, there are many kind of love, and love is relevant to what one love; to love sincerely is to see gold and dust as one.
ME: If Gold is Good, and Dust is Evil, how could you love both Good and Evil at the same time?, take me for instead, just before I came here, I saw a beautiful painting; the painters had captured a split second of childhood beautifully and nostalgically; a young girl and his little boy brother are taking home a gaggle of geese, it is toward evening, and the sun is setting, when I saw the painting, I could not help feeling good, knowing that the man who had painted that, wanted to express his inner most feeling to others, and that is Art, the Gold you mention, but a few hours later, on my was here, I passed by a shop, they had the TV on, the news was about the daily atrocities been committed in Syria, and in me, arose the feeling of despise and sadness knowing that a human who is capable of creating such beauty in Art, is also capable of committing such horrible atrocities, that was the Dust for me, now tell me, how can I love both as one? How can one just be a passive observer in the face of injustice?
SUFI ALI: I did not say that Gold is Good, and Dust is Evil, and neither to love both equally, I said that to love sincerely is to see gold and dust as one, to love sincerely is to see not from your ego, your inner conciseness, but from purity of one’s soul, neither to judge nor to condemn, but let providence decide. One must love all of creation.
I thought that he did not understand my question, I played the old trick of Ivan on him (In Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan tell this story to his brother, Alyosha, to convince him of the impossibility of divine love that Christ preached)
ME: I tell you a story that I once heard; it happened at the beginning of this century, when Aghas and landowners of the few ruled many by the might of their guns. There was an Agha, owned many lands, settled on his property, had more than two thousand farmers working for him, dominated over his poor neighbors as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys, hundreds more men serving his command, all mounted, and in uniform. One day a little boy, an orphan, who worked as a shepherd and provided for his mother, a little child of eight, threw a stone as he is playing and hurt the paw of the Agha’s favorite hound. ‘Why is my favorite dog lame?’, the Agha is upset, he is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog’s paw. ‘So you did it.’ The Agha look at the child, up and down as if some kind of an animal. ‘Take him.’ He was taken, taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the Agha comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It’s a gloomy, cold, foggy autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The Agha orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry, “Make him run,” commands the Agha. ‘Run! run!’ shout the dog-boys. The boy runs, ‘At him!’ yells the Agha, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother’s eyes!, poor child, he is torn apart as his mother looks on helplessly. How is it possible for one to love this creation, this Agha. What would you do if you were to judge this man?
I expected him to have a doubt, or answer something like Alyosha, “To be shot”, or utter some condemnation, but I was wrong.
SUFI ALI: I’m not in the position to judge, one must accept resignation and humility in life, for without Evil there is no Goodness, just as without Death there is no Life, in order to know what happiness is one must suffer and know the meaning of sadness, a so it must be, one thing cannot exist without its opposite. To know what Love is, one must have known at one point what Hate is, but that is what differ the wise from the unwise, the wise know only to love, the unwise know both to hate and love, and is always in inner turmoil, and this turmoil will ultimately lead him to Hate, for he reject to love “All”, for he both judge and condemn, but time will judge everything. All that is creation will be judged one way or another, now, let me tell you a story from Saadi.
He told me of Saadi Shirazi’s tale from Gulstan, The Story of a Soldier of Isfahan, I tracked down the English version of the tale, it goes like this:
“In Isfahan I had a friend who was warlike, spirited, and shrewd. His hands and dagger were forever stained with blood. The hearts of his enemies were consumed by fear of him; even the tigers stood in awe of him. In battle he was like a sparrow among locusts; in combat, sparrows and men were alike to him. Had he made an attack upon Feridun, he would not have given the latter time to draw his sword. Neither in bravery nor magnanimity had he an equal. This warrior formed a liking for my company, but as I was not destined to remain in Isfahan, Fate transferred me from Iraq to Syria, in which holy land my staying was agreeable. After some time the desire for my home attracted me, so I returned to Iraq. One night, the memory passed through my mind; the salt of his friendship opened the wounds of my gratitude, for I had eaten salt from his hand. To meet him, I went to Isfahan and inquired as to where he lived. I chanced upon him. He who had been a youth had become old; his form, once erect as an arrow, had become as a bow. Like a hoary mountain, his head was covered with snowy hair. Time had conquered him and twisted the wrist of his bravery. The pride of his strength had gone; the head of weakness was upon his knees”
Time will judge everything.
ME: Time is abstract, how could something that is abstract judge what is real and exist in reality? The notion of the circle, of “What Goes around must Come around” will take more than a lifetime to happen.
SUFI ALI: Then, time will make it happen, for as abstract as time might be, it always is, and always will be, it flows like a river; what is now is now, but now become past, and what is future become now, and it is possible for one to live more than one lifetime, for like love, time only exist in NOW, not in the PAST, nor in the FUTURE. To judge is to look into the future, to condemn is to look into the past, and both are in conflict with Love and Time.
ME: Then if everything is to move in circle of time that only favor Now over Past and Future, one is then capable of both being Good and of being Evil? And one could be both at the same time!
SUFI ALI: True, that is why you have two hands, right and left, on each of your should is an angel; one write all your deeds that is good in you, and the other all your deeds that is evil, and it is up to you to chose what deed you perform, even the Devil himself once was an angel.
ME: But that take us back to my first question; in a world that both Evil and Good exist side by side, how can one, like a Sufi, be capable of loving every creation of such a world? I have tried to love everything, but it is a struggle, I can’t help feeling despise, hate and sadness and not love when I see innocent suffer, especially children, it is a paradox the notion of “Loving All”.
SUFI ALI: You are young, but, one day, when you get old, you will understand what I meant when I said, ” to love sincerely is to see gold and dust as one”, and for you to understand that, you must gain experience in life, not just joy and happiness, but also suffering, when you suffer much, then you understand.
That is what Sufi Ali said, the wondering Sufi, that last of his kind, he must have suffered much, to be capable of such love. And you have to applaud him, he lived in NOW, not in the PAST, nor in the FUTURE, but even him, TIME will leave behind, as Rumi once said it best:
Graceful you go, o’ life of life, not without me, don’t go
In the garden, with friends, not without me, don’t go
O’ the world don’t rotate, not without me, don’t go
O’ the moon don’t reflect light, not without me, don’t go
O’ the earth don’t grow, not without me, don’t go
O’ time don’t go, not without me, don’t go
To others You are love, to me King of Love
O’ You above all guesses and imagination, not without me, don’t go
Lovers O’ Lovers! Those who have seen His essence
Mad became their mind, distress became their nature
Don’t Leave Without Me by Rumi (rough translation)