Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

The Quest for “Oneness” in a Diverse (and Divided) World

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

In our day and age, many are trying to “be different.” Whether in a singing competition, or anywhere else, many people value being different. Indeed, diversity is very important, and it is – in fact – a miracle of God according to the Qur’an:

And among His miracles is the creation of the Heavens and the earth and the diversity in your tongues and colors. Verily in this are signs for those who know (30:22)

Yet, that is not what  Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is about. He is all about unity.

Unity of the heart, that is.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Ph.D. is a Sufi teacher in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Sufi Order. Born in London in 1953, he has followed the Naqshbandi Sufi path since he was nineteen. He succeeded Irina Tweedie, who brought this branch of Sufism to the West, and moved to Northern California where he founded the Golden Sufi Center. Dr. Vaughan-Lee will be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on “Super Soul Sunday” on March 4, to be aired at 11am ET/PT on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

Dr. Vaughan-Lee is the author of several books, specializing in the area of dreamwork, integrating the ancient Sufi approach to dreams with the insights of Jungian Psychology. For the past 12 years, the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, and an awakening global consciousness of oneness, in other words, unity.

“The Sufi is a traveler on the path of love,” says Vaughan-Lee, “a wayfarer journeying back to God through the mysteries of the heart.” What he calls the “unity of the heart” is ” the greatest human secret,” and he says that Sufis are also known as “people of the secret.”  Within the heart, “we are united with God,” and “the mystical journey is a process of uncovering, or ‘unveiling’ our essential oneness with the divine.”

The Golden Sufi Center lists 31 Beliefs and Ethics of the Naqshabandi path, and many of them include dhikr or the “remembrance of God.” Naqshabandi dhikr is done silently, because “the silent dhikr produces in the heart an intense and imperishable impression (naqsh = ‘impression, print'; band = ‘to bind, to fasten’).” Travelers on this path are ordinary people, and among their followers are people of many faiths and traditions, believing that “all [their] activities, day by day, minute by minute, should be in surrender to the will of the Beloved.”

Sufis on this path also have Eleven principles, among them “solitude in the crowd” and “awareness of one’s state of mind/time.” Says Dr. Vaughan-Lee:

In our daily life we should aim to live with remembrance of God, with a relationship to the sacred that is within everything. We should aspire to bring our innermost relationship with God into all aspects of life, loving and caring for our family, community and environment. Through the difficulties and demands of everyday life we try to make the journey from our ordinary state of forgetfulness of God, to continual remembrance of God.

And once traveler reaches and achieves union with the Beloved, she then reaches the “station of servanthood,” where “the Sufi aspires to be God’s servant here in this world, in service to the Beloved and all of creation. Sufis are involved in humanity, ‘bearing the heat and burden of the day,’ bringing light and love where they are needed.”

I like that aspect very much, and it calls to mind this tradition of the Prophet Muhammad in which he said, “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.”

“How does one get to know the Beloved?” I asked him. That is one of the main purposes of my life, in fact, is living to get to know my Lord, whom – interestingly – I also call “Beloved,” the “Precious Beloved.” His answer struck me deeply, his being completely correct notwithstanding:

It is said that “no one knows God but God” and “God is beyond even our idea of the beyond.” So from this perspective no one can come to know the Beloved.

Yet, that is not the end of it:

However through the journey of the heart and the power of love the mystic comes to experience the Beloved as He reveals Himself within our heart. Sufis use the power of love to dissolve the veils that separate us from God, stripping away the coverings of our ego-self to reveal the divine that is within us. We come to know the Beloved’s all-embracing love, the tenderness and power of divine love that infuses every cell of existence as well as within our own heart. We also come to know God’s divine oneness both within the heart and also experienced outwardly in creation. Other divine qualities may also be revealed within the heart, of the one who has given him or herself in love and surrender to God.

Yet, still, I asked Dr. Vaughan-Lee the ultimate question: why this whole thing about “oneness?’ “Oneness is a divine quality that is a central experience in Sufism,” he told me. “The Sufi experiences the unity of God in the inner and outer world,” and he then quoted the Quran: “Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God.” And even though there is great merit in our “diversity,” in our being “different,” there is still a need for “oneness”:

We are living at a time of great changes and global turmoil, but also an awakening global unity. Ecologically, financially, and in so many other ways we are waking up to the awareness that we are all interconnected: nothing is separate, nothing is isolated. Humanity and the rest of the world are part of one living interconnected whole. And yet at the same time the world appears very divided, even polarized, along many different lines, politically, economically, religiously. The mystic has always known of the primal oneness that belongs to humanity, both in our relationship with God and in the outer world. Mystics have carried this secret of divine oneness for centuries, and now there is a pressing need for this understanding of oneness to be made known, to become part of our collective consciousness.

“Only from a perspective of oneness,” says Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee,” can humanity solve today’s global problems. I pray that his contributions will help enrich the quest for a better humanity and a more peaceful world.

 

 

A Very Telling Gaffe

In the Name of the God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

A gaffe by a Rick Santorum staffer says a lot. Speaking to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday, spokeswoman Alice Stewart said:

There is a type of theological secularism when it comes to the global warmists in this country. That’s what he was referring to. He was referring to the president’s policies in terms of the radical Islamic policies the president has.

She quickly called MSNBC after the segment and said she misspoke, actually meaning “radical environmental policies.”

Ohhhh, I see! She meant environmental rather than Islamic.

This makes me wonder about a couple of things: first, does the spokeswoman’s slip mean that – deep down – she thinks that President Obama really is a “secret Muslim”? And second, is the association between “radical” and “Islamic” so ingrained, so natural, that it can easily slip out of one’s tongue? In either case, it makes me very sad.

It makes me very sad that still, in 2012, associating President Obama with Islam is used as a smear. It recently happened at a Rick Santorum campaign event, in fact, and Senator Santorum did not correct the person making the assertion. This is wrong. It is wrong to try to smear someone by wrongly accusing them of being Muslim (or Jewish, or Christian, or any other religious faith). We should have better respect for religious faith and choice than that.

It is equally sad that the association between “radical” and “Islamic,” it seems, has indeed become so natural. Yes, the Muslim worldwide community has its radical elements: but so does every other religious community. Yes, extremists who called themselves Muslims attacked the country on 9/11: but so did extremists who were Christians in 1995 in Oklahoma City. Yes, there are Muslims who have been caught plotting terrorist attacks, but as a recent study shows, their numbers are dwindling and the threat from American Muslims has been exaggerated.

I wish religion and religious faith would be taken out of politics and the Presidential campaign. Whatever religion we choose to profess: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, or no “-ism” at all, it should not matter. That is a personal choice, and we must all have respect for each other’s personal religious beliefs. That is what makes our country so wonderful: that we can live and work with people of all faiths in peace, harmony, and brotherhood.

It is the way that the Lord wanted us to live on earth, and so let us work to make His desire a reality.

May His Comfort Reign

In the Name of God, the Infinitely Merciful, Most Gracious

I was standing in my  mother’s kitchen when I first heard the news: Whitney Houston, a singer to whom I grew up listening, had died at the age of 48. Since then, and in full from at the Grammy Awards, people and celebrities all across the country have sent in their condolences and prayers. I add my voice to that chorus:

May His comfort reign supreme over Whitney Houston’s family, especially her daughter. As a father who lost his child, I know full well the pain and suffering that loss of a dear loved one can bring. Ever since that horrific day, whenever I learn of the death of anyone, my heart twinges with pains of empathy. And my empathy extends to the Houston family.

As I reflect upon her death, it is amazing how much the country is affected whenever a celebrity dies. Although Whitney Houston did die at a young age, still, as my wife pointed out to me, it seems like celebrities are not subject to laws of God; it seems that they will always be with us to grace us with their talent. As we can see, it is sadly not true. Celebrities, like the rest of us, are human beings: they live, they die; they eat, they sleep; and they are plagued with the same things with which we all are.

Still, whenever one dies – anyone, really, – my response will be the same: may His comfort reign over all those touched by her death. For the truly greatest comfort comes from the Precious Beloved Lord alone. Amen.

Study: American Muslims Pose Little Threat

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Let me start with this: I have never understood and completely abhor those fellow Americans who plot to hurt innocent people in this country. It is a betrayal beyond all measure, and they deserve to be punished severely, if convicted of the allegations made against them. And, definitely, homegrown terrorism is a threat that must be dealt with. Yet, especially during this election season, we cannot let alarmism and fearmongering win the day.

Some elected politicians have talked about the threat from – not “homegrown terrorism” in general – but “Muslim” or “Islamic” homegrown terrorism specifically. Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held four hearings in 2011 to examine “the extent of Muslim-American radicalization by al-Qaeda in their communities today and how terrible it is, the impact it has on families, how extensive it is, and also that the main victims of this are Muslim-Americans themselves.”

A study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security examined Muslim homegrown terrorism, and it declared:

Threats remain: violent plots have not dwindled to zero, and revolutionary Islamist organizations overseas continue to call for Muslim-Americans to engage in violence. However, the number of Muslim-Americans who have responded to these calls continues to be tiny, when compared with the population of more than 2 million Muslims in the United States and when compared with the total level of violence in the United States, which was on track to register 14,000 murders in 2011.

As the report says, this number is not “negligible,” but it is far less than some people would have you believe. And the number of plots and those who support them have been decreasing:

In addition to the decline in violent plots, the number of Muslim-Americans indicted for support of terrorism — financing, false statements, and other connections with terrorist plots and organizations, aside from violent plots — fell from 27 individuals in 2010 to 8 in 2011, bringing the total to 462 since 9/11.

Again, not “nothing,” but not a “scourge” as some would have you believe. In fact, a significant proportion of those plots were foiled by Muslims themselves: 

Muslim-Americans continued to be a source of initial tips alerting law-enforcement authorities to violent terrorist plots. Muslim-Americans turned in 2 of 14 individuals in 2011 whose initial tip could be identified, bringing the total to 52 of 140 since 9/11.

The findings of this study have been replicated by other studies as well. The point is: homegrown terrorism is a very important issue, and again, as an American I expect law enforcement officials to expend every effort to stop terror plots from being materialized. But, as Professor Charles Kurzman, author of the current study, told the New York Times: 

terrorism by Muslim Americans  [is] “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman

Let not the forces of hatred succeed in dividing us through fear and misinformation. Let us be a better people and better nation than that.

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