Saturday, November 07, 2009

Quest in the Province of Ecstatic Exchange | Sohbet with Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

. In Quest of My Oasis, The Series .

Welcome to 2nd Episode of In Quest of My Oasis at Inspirations and Creative Thoughts, a series where we aspire to share short dialogues with seekers & lovers of Sufi path. The Mystic Master Prophet Muhammad, may holy benedictions rise to his noble station, said, "at-turuqu ila 'Llahi ka-nufusi bani Adam", 'the ways to God are as numerous as the human souls'. The Quran states in verse 2:148, "And for everyone there is a direction towards which one turn." The Series God willing, will be tracing such unique, inspiring individual journey to the Goal.

Here we wish to engage with contemporary seekers who are drawn to that Quest, whom we hope to know, connect and share their beautiful journey in the spirit of what sufis call Sohbet. The 2nd Episode of In Quest of My Oasis is blessed by the presence of contemporary Sufi poet, artist and writer Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore, may Allah sanctify his innermost heart and bless his pen and his path.

Residing in Philadelphia since 1990, in 1996 he published The Ramadan Sonnets (Jusoor/City Lights), and in 2002, The Blind Beekeeper (Jusoor/Syracuse University Press). He has been the major editor for a number of works, including The Burdah of Shaykh Busiri, translated by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, and the poetry of Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Munir Akash. He is also widely published on the worldwide web: The American Muslim, DeenPort, and his own website and poetry blog, among others. He is also currently poetry editor for Seasons Journal and Islamica Magazine. The Ecstatic Exchange Series is bringing out the extensive body of his works of poetry.


Quest in the Province of Ecstatic Exchange

Sohbet with Sufi Poet Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Sadiq Alam: How did Daniel Moore from California become Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore? What does Abdal-Hayy mean and particularly signify for you?

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore: I begin in the Name of Allah, with humility at my shortcomings and some embarrassment at dwelling on a bit of biography, with hopes that it might assuage or enlarge, since though we come from Allah and go to Allah, each of us has a story with initial and later chapters.

I was born in Alameda and grew up in Oakland, California, in a family with no real spiritual focus, but at a blessed time in our national history when by Allah many spiritual paths were becoming illuminated by greater (some very great) and lesser (some outright bogus) practitioners and teachers: the roaring 60s. So although my own family was rather more than agnostic on matters of God and His Ways, I was drawn to read all the Zen texts and Bagavad Gitas and later Mathnawis I could, as I also began writing my own poetry, initially excited by the living San Francisco Renaissance and Beat poets, and by Dylan Thomas recordings and W.B. Yeats (Kenneth Patchen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, etc.), though this list is in no way comprehensive. Happily, I had two books published by City Lights Books of San Francisco, the first (Dawn Visions) when I was 24 (1964), the second (Burnt Heart, Ode to the War Dead) when I was 31 (1971).

In the late 60s, in Berkeley, I envisioned and conceived a poetic and sacred theater company, The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company, whose intent was to expunge war from the human heart (the Vietnam war was raging) and bring people to a place of serene meditation (as we were practicing it in mainly Buddhist fashion). We presented our elaborate and visually apocalyptic plays for about three years, performing mainly in the summers, and around 1969 we formally disbanded and I began dedicating myself again to poetry.

At that point, in 1970, I met Ian Dallas, who had just published his book, The Book of Strangers, returning from a visit to the great Sufi Master, Shaykh ibn al-Habib (may Allah be pleased with him) of Meknes, Morocco. Enthralled by his accounts, and confronted with the crossroads a real encounter with Islam entails, I chose to accept Islam and begin my discipleship, gaining in the process the name Abd al-Hayy, Servant (or slave) to the Living God.

The name (a particularly popular one in Morocco) has always seemed to me both an opening door and an appropriate bonding to what for me is essential, as a devotee and a poet: to see in life itself, both inside and outside us, the signs of Allah that signify His Truth and our being continually in the heart’s awe of the glories of His creation. It is also a reminder of the love impulse for all living things, creatures, and human souls — none excluded.


Sadiq: Beginning from early 60s, after enjoying the becoming of a successful poet and writer in 70s, you renounced writing altogether. After ten years of not writing, you “renounced” your renunciation. What led you to this kind of 'khalwa' (retreat/seclusion from the external world), and what inspired you to come out of it?

Daniel: I was, for over ten years, a member of a Sufi community under the mastership of Shaykh ibn al-Habib, and his muqaddem (or deputy), who later became a shaykh when ibn al-Habib died, presently known as Shaykh Dr. Abdal-Qadir as-Sufi. It seemed natural and necessary then, and I do not regret it, to submit to the teacher and his better wisdom and deep acumen, who could see into our needs and prescribe the correct spiritual medicine for the Path to Allah, all within the context and based purely on the Deen of Islam, in its widest dimensional sense. Although I had been writing poetry and had two books of poems in print (though I must say “being a successful poet” is stretching it a bit), and writing poems was a central impulse (even a compulsive one) to my life, at some point it was deemed by the teacher that I should take a serious hiatus from such activity. Instead I should concentrate on learning the Deen and reading only Qur’an, Hadith, certain books of Sufism (not too many) and Islam, travel to visit awliyya and other communities in Algeria, Morocco, Hajj in 1972, and help inaugurate the neo-Muslim community in Cordoba and later Granada, Spain.

Then a year or so into the hiatus, I was asked to assist Abdalhaqq and Aisha Tarjuman Bewley in their translation of the Qur’an, as an English collaborator and editor (as I do not have Arabic). This lasted for many years and took place in many countries, coming to an end at Sura 28. It should be noted that the subsequent publication of their magnificent translation is a revision and overhaul of our work, with only a faint echo of my own initial participation. At one point during this time, Shaykh Abdal-Qadir also directed me to write a novel, for which he provided a working title: Ped-Xing, which was to be the parallel lives of a Muslim and non-Muslim, which I ended up writing in Nigeria during a year there (doing da’wa among the Ibo people, with scant success), and which was later masterfully edited by the shaykh, but has not been published.

In about 1982, my family and I spent a year or so in Texas in the community of Shaykh Fadlallah Haeri, where I began writing poetry again, starting with Chronicles of Akhira (1981), which has now been published with two other shorter books under the title, Sparrow on the Prophet’s Tomb, as well as my long Sufi narrative poem in rhyming couplets which I wrote in the day to read to the age-spanned children of the community by night, Abdallah Jones and the Disappearing-Dust Caper. After an almost decade of not writing, I found the dam burst completely and inspiration started its floods impelling me to write my now extensive list of book-length collections of poems. (It might be also noted that I wrote at night after a full-day’s work, while raising a family with two children, often after the morning prayer of Fajr, or eking out time here and there, and that almost each poem has begun with a line given to me, with a potential felt in it to write the poem out to its conclusion. This is not quite “automatic writing,” but has some relation to it, and would require going into detail regarding inspiration and a humble speculation on where it comes from. But suffice it to say that within the context of Islam and Sufism, inspiration is something to be honored and listened for with ever-attentive and finely honed heart’s hearing.)

But during the time of my so-called “hiatus,” we were singing the diwan collection of poem-songs by Shaykh ibn al-Habib, a set of Gnostic experiences and teachings in that gorgeous and resonant tradition of the poems of the awliyya, and this nourishment along with the essential study and recitation of Qur’an was atomically charged through my blood and brain, heart and soul in ways I can’t even completely know nor explain, and to which I attribute my later flowering.


Sadiq: Travel has been such a significant part of a seeker's development. Many great masters realized that as the inner journey is important, so is the outer journeying. One has to flee, one has to do hijra, or be “on journey.” And you have traveled extensively throughout Europe and North Africa in your early life.

To use Qur’anic symbolism, we find, 'traveling from the near to the far' is a necessary integral component of spiritual ascension, or miraaj, as it was in the archetypal Miraaj. As it is stated in Qur’an: 'Glory to (God) Who did take His servant for a Journey... in order that We might show him some of Our Signs' (17:1).

Do you feel traveling physically is still an important thing to do for seekers in the modern world? Any practical (or impractical, heart-centered) advice?

Daniel: For most of us, born in our particular cultural heritage (or even bondage), travel is crucial, to see how Allah has manifested in cultures perhaps foreign or even alien to our own, and how He has treated them (“Say: ‘Travel about the earth and see how He brought creation out of nothing. Then later Allah will bring about the next existence. Allah has power over all things.’” — Qur’an, Sura 29, Ayat 20, Bewley trans.). I wonder if it has really become any more difficult to travel as we did in the 1960s-70s, and later, though obviously there are national security concerns now that were not so acute then. But if one has the right intention and if it is journeying for Allah (Who is as He ever Was), amazing portals open up, roads level out and meetings take place, from wherever one begins, to the epiphanic finale, in a true journey that actually never ends.

I wrote a little poem recently that goes:

With time we’re either

heading into or going out of

Whereas in fact we’re simply

afloat in His sea.

So perhaps nothing has changed but the outward, and if one travels for the inward, watching the outward attentively and selectively, one can approach a spiritual goal with unexpected strength and heaven-gained maturity. Shaykh Abdal-Qadir once said, “When you go inside yourself you find the world. When you go out into the world you find yourself.”

One must always travel humbly, listening more than talking, learning more than teaching, representing the best qualities of where you began, both as a geographical representative and as a person, and with firm intention to be magnetically drawn to the best of where you are going, both in places and people. If you are traveling for wisdom, you will find wisdom, even in the most out-of-the-way places and in often attenuating circumstances. Intention really is all, and we get that for which we intend, as the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, has said.


Sadiq: Your journey in the east, particularly the Middle East, happened at a time when many of your contemporary seekers were drawn to India. What was it about the Middle East that attracted you more than anything?

Daniel: It’s quite true that the spiritual atmosphere of the 60s was heavily influenced by Indian music, dance, and worship, and I also was drawn to the holy texts of Hinduism and the various saintly gurus, as well as to those of Zen Buddhism, which I did practice for a few years with Sensei Suzuki of San Francisco. Islam was not prominent on the consciousness radar screen during the period of the 60s in California (with some exceptions, such as the communities of Vilayat Khan and Sufi Sam), and it wasn’t until I became a Muslim myself, and we visited North Africa, Morocco and Algeria, that I became so thoroughly absorbed in it.

I felt most at home among the people of Morocco, whose name in Arabic, al-maghreb, means “the west,” and in this case, perhaps the “furthest west” (for the Middle East anyway), nearly touching Spain. Admittedly there was a bit of the memory of the adventures of the Beat poets, though by the time I went, my transformation from my pre-Islamic days to life as a Muslim was well underway.

But my attraction to the Middle East was principally involved with the meeting with our shaykh, Muhammad ibn al-Habib, may Allah be pleased with him, which has been the most pivotal event of my life, a meeting with pure radiance from the thirty previous years of my existence, and whose radiance will continue, God willing, to its end beyond my death. It has provided me with a glimpse of the sanctity and vast ocean of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, from whom all the saints have proceeded, and in comparison with whom all of even the greatest saints are mere drops.

KNOT OF GOLD
(from The Fire Eater’s Lunchbreak)

The Prophet took people of abject poverty
and strewed rubies at their feet
There was no glass in the Prophet’s windows
for any brick to break
In each heart he ties a knot of gold
whose two ends make eternity’s
radiant reclining figure eight
gazed upon by God
We can stand in the door he made in
our being or stride through it into God’s
Presence
The Prophet never rode out on his she camel
but that they longed for his return


Sadiq: Kindly tells us about your particular Sufi Path — its distinct flavor.

Daniel: Much of the time in the West Coast during the 60s was spent listening in large and even huge circles or audiences to gurus of various stripes and enlightenments, and many of us would visit anyone of such a presentation who happened to come to town, or establish a spiritual practice center of some kind. There was a real openness of consciousness for many, by its various means, and many of us saw a need to hear holy words and enlightening thoughts, to enrich the heart’s sensitivities to higher knowledges. The goal for many of us was enlightenment, just as it was enunciated by the poets and spokespersons of our excited and restless generation.

So when I met the man (Ian Dallas) who would invite me to Islam and Sufism, talking about the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the Moroccan shaykh with his disciples in a circle around him under a fig tree in the mosque courtyard, dispensing the highest gnostic wisdom, it appeared to me as a perfectly crystallized and logical step forward (and upward) to what I had been longing for all along, though perhaps not so clearly formulated. I accepted Islam and entrance into the Tariqat of the Qadiriyya Shadhiliyya Habibiyya Order of Morocco, under its living qutb shaykh, Muhammad ibn al-Habib, who added his name to the tariqat, and who, when we visited him, was reputed to be over a hundred years old. And from the very beginning, Islam and Sufism were the same thing, since, as it turns out, true Islam is Sufism, and the Sufis simply replicate the Sunna of the Prophet, peace be upon him, by sitting with a wise person who transmits his teachings in all its splendid multi-dimensional panoply, from Allah’s Book and the Sunna, with whom they have taken an oath of allegiance, benefiting from his compassion and reflecting and dispensing it out again to the world in their turn.

I spent the next ten years in aligned communities with this tariqat, after the shaykh’s passing in 1972 (in Blida, Algeria, on his way to the Hajj), and on until the early 80s, during which time Muqaddim Abdal-Qadir assumed the position of shaykh. To this day I continue to recite the Wird of Shahykh ibn al-Habib, and sing his teaching poem/songs from the Habibiyya Diwan (some of which are available on the Aisha Bewley website). Since moving to Philadelphia we have been part of the Fellowship family of Bawa Muhiyyuddeen, and presently sit with a woman shaykha from Pakistan, whose own shaykh was a Pashtun Qadiri Master.

I strongly believe in and emphasize the importance of taking a living teacher and exemplar for the Path. As Shaykh ibn al-Habib said, “A dead midwife cannot give birth to a live baby.”

But it’s also true, with a hopeful prayer for its acceptance, that my main Sufi practice, in addition to fidelity to all the basic shari’at of Islam as its divine underpinnings and necessary foundation (without omission as much as possible, yet failing to truly live up to it), is my own practice of poetry. So Sufic Islam and poetry might form a spiral within a spiral, but it might be also two spools of the same thread, turning in concert, and my remaining receptively open to inspiration in the writing of it, fisabillah.
















Photo: In Nigeria, Hajj Abdal-Hayy, Hajj Abdal-Mumin, Muhammad of Eke and his son, Muhammad also of Eke, and Hajj Abdal-Haqq Bewley with his son, Habib, circa the late 70s.



I early espoused a poetics that was based on a foundation of truth rather than simply self-expression, in the ethnopoetics as exemplified by the amazing and crucial anthologies by Jerome Rothenberg, in particular Technicians of the Sacred, and saturating myself in Zen Buddhist texts and poems, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the extreme excitements of the early Beat poetries, whose impulse always seemed to be finding the sacred in living experience and the raw proclaiming of it, with various degrees of literary skill and subtlety. But becoming a Muslim with its vast, elegant and varied tradition of poetry, I saw the necessary leap to a poetry of inspired imaginal truth rather than simply human imaginative consciousness, however sincere, now basing my work on Qur’an and the Traditions and Sufic lore and daily epiphanies, while at the same time forging my own language of it, without simply aping time-worn metaphors such as wine and goblets and the beloved’s cheek-moles, with all their symbolism. From Walt Whitman’s yawps of joy to a kind of American Sufi poetics, my work tends to be simultaneously personal and cosmic, with imagery hopefully everyone can understand, and a neo-symbolic immediacy that presents the transparency of our existence dissolving before the Reality of God..

I note also that with the classical Sufi poets (with perhaps the exception of Mevlana Rumi, whose doctrines and disciplines formulated the Mevlevi Tariqat), Hafiz, ‘Attar, Sinai, Shabistari, Jami, Yunus Emre, even Ibn ‘Arabi, all seem to have been only elusively affiliated with a specific Tariqat, rather than basing themselves or proclaiming formal affiliation. I believe that the poets who have given voice to Sufi experience have often been independent, though certainly also at some points if not at all points connected to living Sufi Masters (or like ‘Attar perhaps being one), with direct transmission and illuminative instruction. And this independence has been somewhat true in my case as well, without putting myself in their league, though I have always felt the need to take a living shaykh as a teacher, rather than depend entirely on “literary” sufic traditions alone to sustain me. In this light, I have always kept to my first shaykh, Muhammad Ibn al-Habib, and see him as the central illumination in whomever else I might find myself affiliated, all persons of gnosis forming in truth a unity of Nur.

As I wrote in the “mission statement” on my website: “For me the province of poetry is a private ecstasy made public, and the social role of the poet is to display moments of shared universal epiphanies capable of healing our sense of mortal estrangement — from ourselves, from each other, from our source, from our destiny, from The Divine.” I realized, even through Surrealism as developed in France between the two world wars, and then Spain and Latin America, that poetry can break through into deeper realms of consciousness. Then I discovered both literary Sufi poetry and the living, sung poems of our Moroccan Master, and that it could be direct knowledge (as a pointer at least) to God, and a way to praise Allah, His beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and contain in some fragile, linguistic way the lights of His saints and earlier prophets, back to a kind of oceanic consciousness, among the earliest and most primal of creation. The Qur’anic phrase, “Wherever you look, there is the Face of Allah” has become for me my ongoing poetics and the central intention of my work, in its most universal sense. Along with sitting on Thursday nights with our shaykha, who comments on ayats of Qur’an, and Hadith, and leads us in the recitation of dhikr as taught to her by her shaykh in Mardan, may Allah be pleased with all of them, this is my Path and its tasty paprika.


Sadiq: You have always been a creatively inspired person. How did the quest on the sufi path transform or influence your creative pursuit?


Daniel: The teacher-imposed khalwa, or retreat, from writing had the effect of penning up my usual creative impulses, for the almost decade long period, but while this was in effect I was traveling, meeting awliyya, and working with the Qur’an in a creative way, looking for le mot juste in English for the work of the translators from the Arabic. So my linguistic imagination wasn’t dormant, but critically reoriented. When the gates were subsequently opened the backlog flooded, true to this day, and I praise Allah for both the penning up and the flow, for I think that my poetry and creative work from that period has become what I always longed for it to be, more passionate, fluid, imaginal and energetically true and compass-turned to God and the contemplation of a world in a grain of sand, heaven in a wildflower, infinity in the palm of my hand and eternity in the vast passing of time (to paraphrase Shaykh William Blake).


Sadiq: In an increasingly complex world, what do you think should be the prioritized role of a modern man who walks or who wishes to walk upon the Path?

Daniel: This world can’t be more complex than the one where the Mongols might invade a city and burn everything down, or the Crusades pass through villages killing and pillaging, or the giant Muslim “Golden Age” Metropolis with its hypnotic and even luxurious market places and caravans, where one would have to search out the great scholars and saints who might be hidden due to the Rulers of the outward and the violent politics of the time, a seeming eternal fact of our earthly condition as social beasts.

It all boils down to faith, growing it and making it strong, and locating with certainty what is in our hearts to be listened to, and finding the living exemplars of the highest and best of the Path to Reality and Enlightened effacement (for they do exist and will until the end of time) — with all humility and patience before Allah ta’Ala, and deep and abiding love of His Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him for as long as humanity endures and hearts and souls set out to achieve enlightenment by holy focus in Allah. As he said, “Allah was and there was nothing with Him. And He is as He was.”

FIND YOUR WAY
(from The Fire Eater’s Lunchbreak)

You can find your way by the light

of the moon or a total stranger

Each tree in the dense forest

is its own kingdom

The map you have in the palm of your

hand is map enough

The light of dawn is a reminder to

keep in the back of your mind

We come this way only once and

must interpret the signs

and that all of the signs have been

sent by the Sign Sender

Who watches over us from birth to

death and Who sees us

That we walk in the Light of that

gaze and become at home in it

We can take a break in the

sequence of things but there is no break

We can’t see to the end of the

road until we’re on it

The stag lowers his antlers and

Paradise shines in the dark

The air hovers within itself and

the night lifts its heavenly slates

The writing everywhere becomes materiality and

the reading of it becomes immateriality again

He Who has sent it all waits for us

to acknowledge His Presence

Our feeble eyes can barely make out

shadows in the dark

When the sun comes up on the other side

all becomes clear

In our heartbeats is the syncopation that

draws us forward and the Braille to read by

In the center where the light is

the mountain shows its height

We’ve come a long way from the beginning

and the end is near

The singing in the air all around us

is what will get us there

And the dawn prayer


# Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore's Site, Blog and Books:
. Official Site
. Ecstatic Exchange Poetry Blog
. Portraits - Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore | Video Interview

. Publications
. Books and Manuscripts
. Ecstatic Exchange Brochure (pdf)
. Q-News (July 2006) Featuring Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore
. Some thoughts on Poetry
. Abdal-Hayy Moore on Facebook

# Resources:
. The Diwan of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib
. Selection from Diwan

# Reference:
. Shaykh Muhmmad ibn al-Habib
. Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi (Ian Dallas)
. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

# Earlier Edition of Sohbets / Interviews on MysticSaint:
. In Quest of my Oasis: Sohbet with Amatullah Armstrong
. Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi on Mystic Expriences and Mysticism for New Humanity, Why Renewal is Necessary
. Interview with Dr. Stewart Bitkoff, Part2 (On Traveling the Sufi Path), Part 1 (Mystery School)
. Denise Sati: Painting with a Sufi Master
. Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: When the World is Burning
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