Turn Toward a Sacred Precinct Filled With Acceptance

‘Ā’isha al-Bā’ūnīyah (d. 1517) was a female Sufi master from Damascus, living in the twilight years of Mamluk rule and the very beginning of Ottoman control of the region. She is one of the most prolific, if not the most prolific, female Muslim writer in the pre-modern era, writing treatises, poetry, devotional literature, and the like, including a mawlid-text (a text in celebration of Muhammad’s birth) that would prove to be of enduring popularity. The following is a poem from her diwan that is representative of her deeply emotional and affective piety and poetic style.

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Mamluk-era polychrome tile (c. 1420-1459), Damascus.

When I sought union from the one I love,
His majesty replied that there was no path to Him.

So, I closed my eyes that had tried so hard to see Him,
while in my heart, desire burned with separation’s fire.

I was about to meet my death, when He was kind,
and sweetly spoke to my heart, saying:

‘If you want union from Us, be true to Us,
set aside all else, strive for Us, and be humble.

Leave yourself and come to Us with Our true love and grace.
Make that your means to Me.

Draw near to Us, be devoted to Us; don’t fear rejection.
Turn toward a sacred precinct filled with acceptance.

There, you will find providence draws you to Us,
bringing sweet union,

And you will leave there all but Us
and appear in a station where true men alight.

You will behold lights of power, and in their intensity,
the shadow of difference will go and disappear.

You will pass away, nothing to preserve you save Our splendor,
as you behold, truly, the climax of desire.

Then you will abide with Us, Our servant,
pure, chosen by Us for Our secrets forever!’

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‘Ā’isha al-Bā’ūnīyah, Fayḍ al-Faḍl wa-Jam’ al-Shaml, translated by Th. Emil Homerin, in Emanations of Grace: Mystical Poems by ‘Ā’isha al-Bā’ūnīyah (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2011), 64.

Distance From You is Death and Nearness to You is Life

The world confines us when You are absent from us,
And our souls abandon us because of desire.

Distance from You is death and nearness to You is life,
Were You absent for but the moment of a breath we would die.

Far from You we die and in nearness to You we live,
And if good tidings of reunion reach us from You we revive.

We remain alive in remembrance of You when we do not see You,
For only remembrance of the Beloved enlivens us.

Were it not for the quintessence of You that our hearts perceive,
In wakefulness or sleep, when we are absent,

We would surely die from grieving and yearning out of separation from You;
Yet, in reality, Your essence is within us.

Remembrance motivates us without need for word of You;
Were it not because of the desire for You within us our limbs would not move.

So say to one who would forbid ecstasy from those who experience it,
‘If you have not tasted the draught of Desire with us, be off!

‘When souls tremble, desirous of reunion,
‘Even phantoms dance, oh uncomprehending one!’

Do you not see how a cage bird, oh youth,
Breaks into song when it recalls its ancestral home?

With its chirping that which is in its heart bursts forth,
And its extremities are agitated with feeling and spirit.

It dances in the cage, desirous of reunion,
So that even sentient beings are moved when it sings.

Such are the souls of lovers, oh youth,
Desires propel them to the most sublime world.

Are we to force patience upon souls when they are enraptured?
Is one who has perceived the Quintessence able to be patient?

If you have not tasted the desire that true human beings have tasted,
Then by God, oh empty husk, do not defame us!

Concede to us what we advocate, for
When our desires overcome us we are likely to cry aloud.

Our hearts vibrate during sessions of invocation,
And when we cannot hide our ecstasies we lose control.

In the Divine Mystery are fine and subtle secrets
That perceptibly surrounds us. If only we could utter them!

Oh Distractors of Lovers, arise and openly proclaim!
Fill us to the brim and refresh us with the Name of the Beloved!

Because of our gratitude, preserve our secret from those who envy us,
And if Your eyes disapprove of something, then forgive us.

When we have become light-headed and carefree,
And the wine of Love intoxicates us, we are exposed.

Do not blame the drunkard for his state of drunkenness,
For in our drunkenness we have been absolved of responsibility.

Abu Madyan Shu’ayb ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari (1115-1198), Qasida in Nun, trans. By Vincent J. Cornell