The Backdrop – A Brief Autobiography | 2007-2017

Perennial Quest

March 20, 2017 1:30pm | River City Roasters Coffee Shop in Wheaton, IL

The past ten years have been incredibly important in my life journey. It’s hard to even conceive how productive these years have been in terms of wayfaring; it’s even harder to explain how difficult these years have been—but, as the aphorism goes

  A smooth sea never made for skilled sailors

A little over a decade ago I made the most defining decision of my life, to tread the path of Knowledge, Devotion, and Virtue through the prism of the prophetic teachings of Islām. My own wrangling with the validity of truth and knowing started about two years prior to that decision; a long spiritual brooding set in that was finally resolved through this decision, only to create an even deeper period of positive contemplation that, likely, has no end.

This sets the stage for this blog-project.

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On Murāqabah | ʿAllamah Tabataba’i

On Murāqabah

A short letter from ʿAllamah Tabataba’i in response to a young student who felt that his lower-self had overtaken him; he sought practical instructions from ʿAllamah.

Translation is Shaykh Shomali’s.

In the Name of God, The Beneficent, The Merciful,

Salam Alaykum,

In order to be successful and achieve the goal you have written on the reverse of this paper it is necessary, summoning up will-power and manifesting repentance, for you to turn to self-vigilance (muraqiba) and self-introspection (muhasiba). In the following manner: Every day in the morning when you wake up from sleep, make a firm and serious intention that you will consider in any action that you will perform the pleasure of God – exalted be His Name. Then in that case, what ever action you want to perform you will consider it’s otherwordly benefits, such that if there is no otherworldy benefit, you will not perform it – regardless of whatever it may be. And you will continue this state till the night, the time for sleeping. At the time of sleeping, you will spend 4 or 5 minutes thinking about the actions you have performed during the day, considering each one by one – whichever you found was accomplished in conformity with the pleasure of God, express gratitude, and whichever was a transgression, seek forgiveness – and continue this procedure every day.

This method despite being difficult in a whimsical state [at the beginning], and bitter to the taste of the carnal self – but it is the key to salvation and liberation.

And every night, before you sleep if you can, read the ‘musabbahat’ chapters [the chapters which start with praising God] that is: The chapters Hadid, Hashr, Saff, Jum`a and Taqabun, and if you couldn’t, recite only the chapter of Hashr and after 20 days of being occupied in this manner, write the states of yourself in a letter for me.

Insha`Allah you will be successful.

Mohammad Hussain Tabatabai

Success and its Discontents

Frontline: Poor Kids

The pangs of hunger, depression, missing growth spurts, dishonor, broken friendships, strained hearts.

These stories, from the eyes of young people, makes me wonder how much of these situations could be helped with communal ties; all of these stories revolve around families that seem radically separated from others.

How much of the fear could be blunted, to a small extent, by the ability to grow food in your own space?

How much could be fixed through the support of extended family?

Where can the force of Prophetic wisdom be placed in a society whose members are so incredibly isolated? Are food-banks and other institutions enough? Or does there need to be a more fundamental shift in social structures?

Who knows?


Summoning the Recluse


Short, interesting mini-doc about young Chinese people who are searching for meaning beyond the daily school to career track of contemporary urban life. I respect them for their search though I find some of their conceptions of the spectrum of technology, modern/ancient, etc. a little fuzzy. However, I imagine their experience will teach them much more than those of us who take up the journey.

The comment that previous hermits would often take up their hermitage due to political reasons while their particular journey is an individual choice was insightful—though I don’t know anything about past reasons for becoming a hermit—in that it illustrates a powerful theme in our post/industrial, modern places; personal choice and the desire for personal meaning sometimes pushes us away from communal acts of seeking. And our reliance on “new” technology vs ancient “non-technological” life—which is a mistaken conception, but we can leave that aside—is due to the lack of communal searches for meaning, Truth; we pass down much less in the way of communal experience, knowledge, tools, etc.; so the renewal of the search is somehow disconnected from a “native,” easily-digestible constellation of information and skills.

The Search then, often, seems unfathomable.

Or something.