To put it bluntly: I feel like I have missed a chance today. An important chance. A chance to influence and hopefully inspire the view of millions of Muslims, and perhaps some thousands of non-Muslims, throughout the world.
So what happened? I will tell you, but let me first introduce part of the story to you.
I was invited to participate in a television/video series called ‘Ocean of Revelation‘, an initiative of the LibForAll Foundation, which is ‘presenting a pluralistic and tolerant understanding of islam to Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide.’
LibForAll is an inspiring nonprofit organisation, which was co-founded by Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, and the American entrepreneur C. Holland Taylor. LibForAll’s mission is ‘to encourage the growth of peaceful, free and tolerant societies – built on a foundation of civil and economic liberty and the rule of law – in order to reduce religious extremism and discredit the use of violence.’
Great, isn’t it?
The in Holland rather well-known Dr. Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, an expert on Koranic hermeneutics, is one of their Board’s Advisors, just like Kyai Haji Achmad Mostafa Bisri, who is a well-respected religious scholar. The latter had a profound influence on the largest Islamic organisation in the world, the Nahdatul Ulama (NU).
The ‘Ocean of Revelation’ series of LibForAll is in the making, and will include 26 episodes on topics like Islam and faith (iman), Islam and pure devotion (ihsan), faith communities (umma), people of faith, proselytisation (da’wa), and jihad. The first 6 episodes have already been recorded, and they will be broadcasted in the Maledives and in Indonesia during Eid al-Fitr, at the end of this Ramadan.
The LibForAll Foundation is currently shooting footage and recording interviews with intellectuals, scholars and laymen (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, for the 7th episode in the ‘Ocean of Revelation’ series, on Islam and the state.
Last week I received an unexpected e-mail of Ravi Krishnamurty, vice president of the LibForAll Foundation, and Hodri Ariev, its programs director. My name had been mentioned to them as a possible interesting interviewee by journalist/writer Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, an American convert to Islam. Schwartz is deeply involved with Islamic mysticism, having joined a Bosnian Naqshbandi Sufi order, and he is a serious advocate of anti-Wahhabism. As such, he rejects any sort of religious extremism or aggressive fundamentalism.
May 2009 I had presented his latest book, “Sufism, or the road to global harmony” in the book review item of OBA Live at the public library in Amsterdam. That OBA Live show was related to the Dutch Muslim and Islamic Broadcasting Organisations, the NMO and the NIO. Earlier on, in November 2008, I was invited to join the NIO’s radio show ‘De zevende hemel’ (‘The seventh heaven’) as a guest to discuss with other guests the topic of Islamic mysticism.
Well, after all I am a research master student of the MPhil Islamic Studies at Leiden University, looking into Islamic mysticism and universal Sufism.
Apparently, Schwartz has thought of me in the context of The Netherlands – ‘Ocean of revelation’ – convert to islam – Sufism; and as such he informed LibForAll about me, I guess. I owe him thanks for creating the possibility to be interviewed by camera about my opinion on the relationship between Islam and the Dutch society,and, more precise, what my views on Sufism and its possible value for interfaith dialogue concern. It was a great honour to me to be invited through him to participate in the tv/video series of LibFor All.
But, as I started with, I feel like I have missed a chance today.
This early morning in a chilly, clouded Leiden, I awaited the CEO of LibForAll, Mr. Holland Taylor, program director Hodri Ariev, and their wonderful film crew. As they were eager to shoot their footage and the interview on the spot at or near by a typical landmark, we ended up near the charming pedestrian’s bridge and the great wind mill at the crossing of the Galgewater and the Weddesteeg -a windy but beautiful and historical spot, close to the house were the famous painter Rembrandt was born.
It was great to acquaint ourselves with each other, and after some introductory talk on what I was expected to speak about, the interview took off.
My oh my, how difficult it is to speak about specific subjects in front of a running camera, unprepaired!
Looking back at the interview, I think and fear that I have talked nonsense. Not only did all the good and clear answers to the questions asked came to my mind right after we had said goodbye; I felt literally very stupid that I did not stay tuned to my very own opinions about islam and Sufism; my rational, somewhat uncertain mind took over.
Preparation for the interview was not necessary, I was told, because they felt that it would be better to let the interviewees in general speak about their own field of interest with regard to the topic of each episode.
I agree, but well; slightly overwhelmed by facing two cameras, and being asked to look straight into one of them, my mind did not quite work the way I would have wanted it to work. I still can hardly imagine that I allowed part of myself to speak of things I hardly know something about, failing to find the right words to express what I really meant to say. Worse: formulating words about my conversion to Islam, or rather I must say to Islamic mysticism, I said things I do regret to have said. Sadly, I uttered myself in my view often in an unintelligent, vague manner.
And, shame on me, I did not even mention what Sufism means to me most of all: love. Love for God, for what I experience as the Divine; love for my fellow brothers and sisters in this world -love for mankind. Love for this beautiful, awe-inspiring creation, for the wonder life is.
Another thing I feel bad about for not bringing it into the fore, is that the Sufism I stand for also involves awareness and care for the needs of others around us. As much as we are able to support one another by our own God-given talents and capacities, we should. We are all connected in this world, one way or the other: we all play our roles in the lives of others. If we fail to notice the interrelatedness of our shared existence, we might as well literally don blinders on our eyes. Living this life means living among others; how can we live like isolated suns in our own selfish universes?
As well; sharing and caring involves care for our natural environment, too.
I did not even mention that Sufis most of all seek mystical union with God, in the various ways that can be found among Sufi orders and individual God-seekers. Be it dhikr (continuous invocation of God, God’s attributes and/or Muhammad), fikr (contemplation), samaa’ (musical gatherings, involving poetry and/or dance), or zuhd (ascetism).
Yes, I did stress that many exponents of Sufism have sought to start and upheld interfaith dialogue throughout the ages; and I did stress that in my view the Western universal Sufism of the muslim mystic and professional musician Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927) might be regarded as a present-day source of inspiration. Inayat Khan stressed the commonness of mankind rather than the differences; and instead of focusing on race, caste, creed or nation, he brought a universal message of love, beauty and harmony in their highest essence.
Following Inayat Khan’s world, let’s call Sufism the ‘religion of the heart’..
But alas, I did not.
Now I only pray and do hope that my contribution to the 7th episode will be useful and worthy enough to be witnessed by millions of people -and, rather than leaving some confusion behind, inspire some of them to open their hearts to a more loving, caring and inclusivist approach to life in general and the people surrounding them specifically.
Moments in time.. They pass.
Please accept this ‘testimony’ as a meagre apology for all I haven’t said in front of the cameras today.
Better stay tuned to yourself -and above all, stay true to yourself. Let your heart speak. Then, and only then, inspired ‘truth’ will prevail over rationalistic nonsense.
Hopefully the editors will do their job appropriately..
PS: Dear God, I hope I didn’t disappoint You too much.