“[But] you, soul at peace: return to your Lord well pleased and well pleasing; go in among My servants; and into My Garden.” (Qur’an 89:27–30)
The “garden” is a metaphor in every monotheistic religion’s Books, and is inherent in non-religious thinking as well. This is one of the most important universal archetypes that calls every human to the place of rest and well-being. It is the longed for place of fulfillment, of peace, the “promised land;” the eternal promise of life filled with hope, dreams, potential, lack of suffering, love, joy — a return back to the Garden of Eden walking with Allah. This is the future where the serpent has no power and the lion lays down with the lamb, where no evil resides, and goodness reigns in the everlasting Kingdom of Light. Some of the metaphors within the archetype of the garden are flowing clear streams, trees laden with ripe fruit, verdant pastures, and goblets of wine which express the metaphoric physical flourishing of the promised land in the context of spiritual flourishing: flowing rivers and streams represent never ending knowledge which comes from Allah, fruit trees represent the fullness of the ripened spirit which blesses others, verdant pastures symbolize land that has been rained on with Allah’s truth, and goblets of wine reveal Allah’s intent of our fruition on earth combined with His spiritual Truth, pressed through the winepress of suffering, and combined with His Spirit.
We encourage ourselves with images of Paradise or Heaven, where we will no longer suffer and cry, but will receive blessings beyond compare. The slaves of early America anguished through unbearable suffering, but were able to sustain themselves and each other with the symbols of their Spirituals sung in remembrance of the promises of God for those who believe. Frederick Douglas wrote of singing spirituals during his bondage: “A keen observer might have detected in our repeated singing of ‘O Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound of the land of Canaan,’ something more than a hope of reaching heaven. We meant to reach the North, and the North was our Canaan.” (1) The lyrics of Sweet Canaan Happy Land:
Oh, my brother, did you come for help to me?
Pray and give me your right hand
Oh, my sister, did you come for help to me?
Pray and give me your right hand
Oh, the land I am bound for
Sweet Canaan’s happy land
I am bound for
Sweet Canaan’s happy land
I am bound for
Sweet Canaan’s happy land
Pray give me your right hand
The metaphor of the River Jordan was also used in many of the slave spirituals. The American theologian James Cone teaches there are two primary meanings; the Jordan River represented death which would alleviate a slaves ongoing suffering by their entrance into heaven, so the term “crossing Jordan” was the transition from the extreme conditions of slavery to a place where a community could be restored. Also, the Jordan represented the border between slavery and freedom:
“I’ll meet you in the morning
when you reach the promised land
on the other side of the Jordan
for I’m bound for the promised land.
In Erskine Peters’s definitive collection of spiritual lyrics, there are further variations in the use of the Jordan River as a symbol. At times, the Jordan serves as the symbolic border between this world and heaven, as in the song
“Roll, Jordan, Roll”
Roll, Jordan, roll,
I want to go to heaven when I die
to hear Jordan roll
In other songs, “walking Jordan’s road” suggests living a Christian life, and “going down” to the river can suggest making a commitment to Christian life through baptism, as in “I’m Going Down to the River of Jordan:”
I’m going down to the river of Jordan,
O yes, I’m going down to the river of Jordan
Some of these days, Hallelujah…
…I’m going to set at the welcome table;
I’m going to feast off milk and honey…
In sum, the river Jordan in traditional African American religious song became a symbolic borderland not only between this world and the next but also between the harsh realities of present injustice and the achievement of freedom and justice on earth. It could symbolize travel to the north and freedom or could signify a proverbial border from the status of slavery to living freely in general.” (2)
The same metaphoric meaning is found in the secular song written by Carol King, “Way Over Yonder:”
Way over yonder
Is a place that I know
Where I can find shelter
From a hunger and a cold
And the sweet tastin’ good life
Is so easily found
A way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound
I know when I get there
The first thing I’ll see
Is the sun shining golden
Shining right down on me
Then trouble’s gonna lose me
Worry leave me behind
And I’ll stand up proudly
In true peace of mind
A way over yonder
Is a place I have seen
In a garden of wisdom
From some long ago dream
I’ll find find my way
To the land where the honey runs
In rivers each day
And the sweet tastin’ good life
Is so easily found
A way over yonder
That’s where i’m bound
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
A way over yonder
That’s where I’m bound
“Way over yonder” symbolizes the ideal location, the time and space where all that is goodness comes together in an idyllic metaphoric image almost as a visualization of the heart’s yearning for home. We yearn for home in the very heart of our being, and in the recesses of our collective consciousness. This world is not our home, we cannot stay forever in this place of separation from Allah, but like lost children need to follow the correct path to return.
Why does humanity have archetypes that dwell in our collective subconscious? According to many Sufi mystics there is an alternative world which reflects forms and symbols back to our sensory world. Our essence appears in the world of forms as a visual symbol. Corbin explains further, “…do not be surprised if anger, which is a psychic modality when it appears, by taking on the form with extramental existence becomes a devouring fire; nor if knowledge, which is also a way of being of the soul, becomes a fountain called Salsabil (a fountain of paradise, Qur’an 76:18) when it appears as taking on a form with extramental existence, do not be surprised if that which someone has unjustly devoured an orphan’s wealth becomes, in the other world, a fire that tortures his entrails; nor if the love of this world, that is, bad passions and possessive ambitions which are maladies of the soul, become stinging scorpions, biting snakes.” (3)
Furthermore, the world itself reflects the archetype of either a wilderness or a garden depending on the spiritual state of humanity. However, most moral people have a yearning for justice and peace; for a civilization which is enriched by love and flourishing so that all of humanity has a chance to develop their own creative potential to advance Allah’s Will on earth. But in order for the world to be transformed into the archetype of the Garden, individual souls must be transformed so that the deeper understanding of the archetype of the garden enables the flourishing of their soul’s state to be extended outward into transformative action. The Qur’an states, “When Hell is made to blaze and Paradise brought near: then every soul will know what it has brought about” (81:13–14). Therefore, the mirrored symbolic representation of our natures will come to reality after our death. Also from the Qur’an, “And as for one who fears to stand in the presence of his Lord and forbids the soul from low desires, Lo! the Garden — that is the abode” (79:40–41). The Garden is the reflection of the soul that is flourishing, so this will become the existence of the transformed soul. Likewise, the Garden is also the reflection of a spiritually flourishing world.
Tulie Scott Meisami writing in Allegorical Gardens in the Persian Poetic Tradition: Nezami, Rumi, Hafez, states:
“It is a commonplace of criticism that all gardens are, in some measure, reflections of Paradise. ‘The place of perfect repose and inner harmony is always remembered as a garden … an earthly paradise,’ observes A. Bartlett Giamatti. Through the gardens he builds (in physical or in mental space) man expresses not only his conception of and his longing to recapture that ideal state, but also his perception of his relationship with nature: of the design of the cosmos and of his own place in it.” (4)
The Qur’an frequently reminds one to look at the “signs” and uses the metaphor of a date fruit beginning with the outer layer and working towards the very center to represent the sign of looking within to find the scripture’s hidden meanings. The most important meanings found in all Scriptures are contained within its analogies, metaphors, allegories and parables. S.H Nasr writes, “The idea of the Book of Nature, “written” by God to provide signs of Himself, is found in both Christianity and in Islam: The Augustinian view ‘that beauty is not mere spectacle but God’s rhetoric in the book of creation’ is echoed in the Islamic, that ‘Nature is a fabric of symbols, which must be read according to their meanings.” (5) There are symbolic meanings in the Word, but also in nature which reflect the spiritual world into the understanding of the heart of humans.
Meisami also explains that “The earthly garden functions both as an object of man’s contemplation and as a setting for important human activities; it differs from a natural landscape by virtue of being an artifact, constructed according to design (a fact no less true of literary gardens than of real ones) as well as by the frequent opposition of the world to the wilderness beyond it (gloomy forest or desert waste), the abode of forces hostile to man and to order.” (6)
Humans and nature are bound together in symbolic unison; in our physicality of matter and in its metaphoric representations. We live in the world of symbols, but when over-focused on the material world are not able to perceive the world of forms which is detrimental to the advancement of our spiritual level. We become like ghosts in a world of shadows, much like Plato’s allegory of the cave, not really ascertaining true reality because our understanding of Allah’s light is based on the continual viewing of our physical body’s shadow therefore believing the physical world beyond the veils is the only existent. In other words, we have become desensitized to violence and suffering, our egos leading a shadow dance to our soul’s satisfaction, therefore not really understanding we are no longer on the straight path. It is a mirage when the human soul resides only in the confines of its fleshly form, seeking the material world which is represented as an archetype in another heavenly realm mirroring the sickness of humanity back to itself. The archetype of a lack of spirituality is the desert or wilderness which only grows weeds and thorns, streams have dried up, and there is no fruit bearing vegetation. “Forms, though imperfect reflections of universal truth, and yet guides to that truth, invaluable mediators in its perceptions: Creation, for Rumi, is one vast metaphor, a web of interrelated symbols that testify to the eternal reality beyond them. ‘Creation has acquired a speaking soul’ he states echoing the Qur’anic verse (17:46) ‘Nothing there is, that does not proclaim His praise.” (7)
The one who sleeps in the midst of a garden wants to be
awakened. But the one who sleeps in a prison, to be awakened is a nuisance. (Rumi)
Frithjof Schuon writing in an unpublished letter explores the allegory of the garden with the deeper understanding of that which is centered on the Divine Spirit will create the reflection of the archetype of the flourishing garden within their own soul:
“A person sees a beautiful garden, but they know: they will not always see this garden, because one day they will die; and they also know: the garden will not always be there, because this world will disappear one day. And they know also: this kinship with the beautiful garden is the gift of destiny, because if a person were to find themselves in the middle of a desert, they would not see the garden; they only see it because destiny has put them, human, here and not elsewhere.
But in the innermost region of our soul lives the Spirit, and in it is contained the garden, as it were, like a seed; and if we love this garden — and how is it possible not to love it since it is of a heavenly beauty? — we would do well to look for it there where it has always been and always will be, that is to say in the Spirit; maintain yourself in the Spirit, in your own centre, and you will have the garden and in addition all possible gardens. Similarly: in the Spirit there is no death, because here you are immortal; and in the Spirit the relationship between the contemplator and the contemplated is not only a fragile possibility; on the contrary it is part of the very nature of the Spirit and, like it, it is eternal.
The Spirit is Consciousness and Will: Consciousness of oneself and Will towards oneself; the pure Spirit is inseparably one with the Supreme Name; this is why the Orison (8) is the road towards Self. Maintain your self in the Spirit through Consciousness, and approach the Spirit through the Will or through Love; then neither death nor the end of the world can take away the garden from you nor destroy your vision. Whatever you are in the Spirit now, you will remain so after death. Before God there is neither being nor ownership except in the Spirit; whatever was outward must become inward and whatever was inward must become outward: look for the garden in yourself, in your indestructible divine Substance; then this will give you a new and imperishable garden. Whatever you love externally is to be found in the Orison, therefore attach yourself to it, dwell in it and live in it. The Orison is the seed of eternity.” (9)
(All exclusive language has been changed to the use of inclusive language)
The power of the imagination is significant either in its ability to transform human nature to be closer to the divine, or to transform humanity. Unfortunately, however, humans don’t understand this supernatural power of transformation. This was the sufi mystics using the symbolic power of supernatural alchemy to change one liquid into another liquid just like Jesus changing water into wine. The sufi’s call this himma which is intense spiritual resolve:
“This is the most powerful force contained within humans. It is the sincere and dedicated application of all of one’s efforts and strivings towards attaining the desired Object — Allah. The strength of this will results from its sincerity and the purity of its facing, its collectedness and its focusing on a specific matter. ‘Himma’ is a pure, active force in the human being and is found in the origin of his creation and nature, or else it is acquired and developed later. From the point of view of it being a force, it is capable of attachment and is therefore attached in accordance with the will of its owner. If one attaches one’s ‘himma’ to the world, one achieves riches and position; if one attaches it to worship, one achieves stations and inspirations; and if it belongs to Allah, all attachments fall away and the aspiration becomes one. Al Himma is to turn totally to the Creative Truth without saying “I can’t” or with regards to the self, “what’s in it for me?” By using the means and the connections of work and the convictions of hope and to trust yourself with it totally. In the beginning, himma is that you have made firm your convictions towards obedience to Allah and fulfilling the promise of your repentance. It can develop from there and it is possible for the spiritual resolve to proceed through the following stages: The connection of one’s heart by the real blessing that never diminishes. Swaying the self from the diminishing desires. Seriousness in seeking the Truth when there is reluctance. With regards to conduct, himma is: 1. The desire to remain steadfast in the spiritual actions one performs. 2. With the continuation of visualision and the power of trust in Allah, by doing what you need to do, and you surrender to Him. With regards to manners, one should turn the himma totally towards proper behaviour in order to achieve the ultimate happiness and completeness. With regards to foundations, the himma will pull her owner towards the right of the Creative Truth by the power of Allah. And the peace and tranquillity of being with Allah will not stop her owner or cool down. Through their Spiritual Resolve the great friends of Allah possess the power to perform miracles. Yet, due to their knowledge, their slavehood and their perfect courtesy they refrain from exercising such spiritual resolve except when in compliance with a Divine Command. There can be no greater blessing for a human than the gift of being born into this earthly realm with the pre-eternal yearning to return to his Origin. It is the greatest gift that Allah gives to anyone. And, it is the highest luck, because this yearning, this himma, was established within the, as yet unformed soul, when it was still non-existent, (though existent), within the Knowledge of Allah. The opposites become united in such a human, who, though dwelling in an earthly body of clay and decomposition, has a yearning soul, composed of the noble virtues and immortal qualities. And for this Gift, the seeker will never be able to express his thanks to his Lord. He who has no spiritual aspiration or sincere will in seeking Allah in gratitude or in love cannot have an ambition to follow the Sufi Path of ‘Friendship’. (10)
And yet humanity has put to use the Doomsday Clock so that all of us can imagine total destruction. Furthermore, there have been over 200 movies made with an apocalyptic theme, along with the hundreds of video games that always destroying the enemy. And, due to increased globalization it is more important than ever to begin to work collaboratively towards world peace. But, first we must submit to Allah, and then imagine world peace with the subsequent steps on how to achieve lasting peace. All of humanity has the Garden archetype within our souls, it is the promised land, the place we all yearn for, the flourishing that Allah intended for His Creation from the beginning of time. Our wayward imaginings have created a desolate wilderness. Sebastian Junger, writing on the detrimental affects of modern society on individual functioning writes that modern society emphasizes extrinsic values over intrinsic ones (material focus rather than spiritual). (11) Also, exploring human’s anthropological history of social connectedness with the present day, Junger adds, “…humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially isolating environment with dire consequences.” (12) Also, “the beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good.” (13) Sharon Abramowitz (Anthropologist) states, “we are an anti-human society…hierarchical and alienating…” The rates of depression and suicide continue to rise, the threat of nuclear war is increasing, there is a high number of genocides around the globe, nationalism and racism is increasing such that most people (believers) no matter the religion they are affiliated with, believe that humanity is in the “last days.”
Imagine women and men around the world meeting together to dialogue solutions towards world peace and stability. Imagine the concept of “loving your neighbor as yourself” being put into action where humans really begin caring for one another by helping to carry each others burdens and meeting needs wherever they see them. Homelessness and the poor are exponentially increasing all over the world according to the latest statistics. We have forgotten how to care for one another, and move around in our silent envelopes of our civilization’s media craze not paying attention to the suffering around us. What will it take to put into fruition the garden of paradise on earth? Imagine it! What about this instead:
For the Ummah (Muslim community):
Muhammad Iqbal writes an extremely meaningful poem about the state of Islam called The Complaint. The first section (Shikwa) is the Muslim complaint reminding Allah of everything the Muslims did to spread the knowledge of Islam, but then laments the sad state of Islam in the modern world by inferring Allah has not done enough to keep Islam fresh and revived. Allah’s response (Jawab-e-Shikwa):
The word springing from the heart surely carries weight,
Though not endowed with wings, it yet can fly in space.
Pure and spiritual in its essence, it pegs its gaze on high,
Rising from the lowly dust, grazes past the skies.
Keen, defiant, and querulous was my passion crazed,
It pierced through the skies, my audacious wail.
“Someone is there,” thus spoke the heaven’s warder old,
the planets said, “From above proceeds this voice so bold.”
“No, no,” the moon said,” “tis someone on the earth below,”
Butted in the milky way: “The voice is hereabouts, I trow.”
Ruzwan alone, if at all, understood aright,
He knew it was the man, from heaven once exiled.
Even the angles wondered who raised this cry,
All the celestial denizens looked about surprised.
Does man possess the might to scale empyreal heights?
Has this mere pinch of dust learnt the knack to fly?
What are these earthly folks? Careless of all respect,
How bold and impudent, the lowly dwellers of the earth!
Extremely rude and insolent, cross even with God,
Is it the same Adam whom angels once did laud?
Steeped in bliss, man is of wisdom’s lore possessed,
Nonetheless, he’s alien to humility’s sterling worth.
Man feels proud of the power of his speech,
But the fool doesn’t know how and what to speak.
You narrate a woeful tale, thus the voice arose,
Your heart is boiling overwith tears uncontrolled.
You have delivered your plaint with perfect skill and art,
You have brought the humans in contact with God.
We are inclined to grant, but none deserves our grace,
None treads the righteous path, whom to show the way?
Our school is open to all, but talent there is none,
Where is that soil fertile to breed the human gems?
We reward the deserving folks with splendid meed,
We grant newer worlds to those who strive and seek.
Arms have been drained of strength, hearts have gone astray,
The Muslim race is a blot on the Prophet’s face.
Idol-breakers have left the scene, idol-makers remain,
Aazar has inherited Abraham’s glorious name.
Wine, flask, and drinkers-all are new and changed,
A different Kaaba, different idols now your worship claim.
Therewas a time when you were respected far and wide,
Once this desert bloom was the season’s wealth and pride.
Every Muslim then was a lover profound of God,
Your sole beloved once was the all-embracing Lord.
Who removed falsehood from the earth’s face?
Who broke the shackles of the human race?
Who reclaimed our Kaaba with their kneeling brows?
Who presses the sacred Quran to their heart and soul?
True, they were your forbears, but what are you, I say?
Idle sitting, statue-like you dream away your days.
What did you say? Muslims are with hopes of houries consoled,
Even if your plaint is false, your words should be controlled.
Justice is the law supreme, operative on this globe,
Muslims can’t expect the houries, if they follow the kafir’s code.
None of you is, infact, deserving of the “hoor”,
A Moses is but hard to fin, burneth still the Tur.
Common to the race entire is their gain or loss,
Common is their faith and creed, common too the Rasul of God;
One Kaaba, one Allah, and one Quran inspire their heart,
Why can’t the Muslims then behave like a single lot?
Cast, creed and factions have disjointed this race,
Is this way to forge ahead, to flourish in the present age?
It’s the poor who visit the mosque, join the kneeling rows,
The poor alone observe the fasts, practise self-control.
If someone repeats our name, it’s the poor again,
The devout poor hide your sins, preserve your vaunted name.
Drunk with the wine of wealth, the rich are unconcerned with God,
The Muslim race owes its life to the poor, indigent lot.
“Muslims have vanished from earth,” this is what we hear,
but we ask, ” Were the Muslims ever the Jewish sects.
You are Nisars by your looks, but Hindus by conduct,
Your culture puts to shame even the Jewish sects.
If the son is alien to his learned father’s traits,
How can he then claim his father’s heritage?
All of you love to lead a soft, luxurious life,
Are you a Muslim indeed? Is this the Muslim style?
All of you desire to be invested with the crown,
You should first produce a heart worthy of renown.
The new age is the lighting blast, it will set your barns on fire,
It can’t produce in groves or deserts the Old Sinai’s burning spire.
The new fire consumes for fuel the blood of nations old,
The clothes of the Prophet’s race are incinerated in its folds.
Don’t be depressed, gardener, by the present scene,
The starry buds are about to burst with a brilliant sheen.
The garden will soon be rid of its thorns and weeds,
The martyr’s blood will bring to bloom all the dormant seeds.
Mark how the sky reflects its orange purple hues,
The rising sun will flush the sky with its rays anew.
Islamic tree exemplifies cultivation long and hard,
A fruit of arduous gardening over centuries past.
Your caravan needn’t fear the perils of the path,
But for the call of bells you own no wealth at all.
You are the plant of light, the burning wick that never fails,
With the power of your thought you can incinerate the veil.
We’ll love you as our own, if you follow the Prophet’s ways,
The world is but a paltry thing, you’ll command the pen and pag. (14)
Ummah, spiritually transform yourself with Allah’s help, and lead humanity in transforming the world. This is your true calling — Islam: full submission to Allah.
(1) African American Spirituals, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/)
(2) Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, “River Jordan in Early African American Spirituals”, n.p. [cited 25 Jan 2018]. Online: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/river-jordan-in-early-african-american-spirituals
(3) Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, Henry Corbin, p. 168
(4) Allegorical Gardens in the Persian Poetic Tradition: Nezami, Rumi, Hafez, Tulie Scott Meisami, https://archive.org/stream/docslide.us_allegorical-gardens-in-persian-sufi-poetrypdf/docslide.us_allegorical-gardens-in-persian-sufi-poetrypdf_djvu.txt
(5) S. H. Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), p. 24)
(6) Allegorical Gardens in the Persian Poetic Tradition, Meisami
(8) Orison — the simplest meaning is prayer, but since Schuon capitalizes orison it would appear that he is intending to amplify the meaning to signify more than just simple prayer to God. Another meaning is, “a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, or adoration.” The Qur’an frequently mentions in its chapters or surahs to be constantly “mindful of God” which more closely resembles Schuon’s intent with the word usage of orison. It is immersing oneself completely within God and His Spirit, full of devotion and completely submitted. In this way our prayer or supplication to God is indeed “the seed of eternity.” In many of Schuon’s other books he mentions orison in connection with meditating or contemplating the Name of God: “We have distinguished canonical prayer from individual prayer by saying that it is a particular individual who is the subject in the second, whereas the subject is man as such in the first; now there is a form of orison wherein God Himself is the subject in a certain way, and this is the pronouncing of a revealed divine Name: ‘God and His Name are identical” (Ramakrishna). (Pray Without Ceasing: The Way of the Invocation in World Religions, Schuon, p. 69)
(9) The Garden, Unpublished Letters, The Essential Writings of Frithjof Schuon, p. 529
(10) The Language of the Future: Sufi Terminology, Murshid F.A. Ali ElSenossi (http://www.almirajsuficentre.org.au/qamus/app/single/518)
(11) Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger, p.24
(12) Ibid, p. 25
(13) Ibid, p. 64
(14) The Complaint, full poem by Muhammad Iqbal (https://uzairahmad.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/the-complaint-and-response-to-the-complaint-sir-allama-muhammad-iqbal/)