I've read the Koran (in translation, naturally). It didn't resonate with me. Really tough to get through – but Muslims say that a lot, maybe everything, is lost in translation.
Somewhat strangely though, I went through a phase where I couldn't stop reading Rumi. He was a Sufi, the mystical side of Islam. My bookshelves are full of Rumi titles, including Nicholson's three volume translation of the Masnavi.
I rarely pick up a Sufi book any more. There's too much monotheism left over from Sufism's Islamic roots to appeal to me, now that I'm in a Taoist/Buddhist phase.
All this Rumi talk of "His ruby lips" and "kiss of the Beloved" …ugh.
But I just read an excerpt from Ibn 'Arabi's "Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom" that gave me a fresh outlook on Sufism and mystical Islam. It's included in One: Essential Writings on Nonduality, edited by Jerry Katz.
I liked these passages because the notion of becoming nothing is appealing only insofar as it is a metaphor, not reality.
During my deeply devoted Radha Soami Satsang Beas days, when I'd hear disciples say "The guru is everything, I am nothing," I liked the humble sentiment. But it never made sense to me.
After all, if someone is in love with the guru and wants to be just like him, and the guru is everything, then shouldn't that person want to be everything also, rather than nothing? Plus, if you're nothing, how can you love? Or be devoted? Or be anything?
Religions often preach the virtue of extinguishing individuality, ego, willfulness. Yet as Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240) says below, this presumes that there is something to extinguish.
If reality is truly one at its foundation – a hypothesis that makes a lot of sense to me, both scientifically and spiritually – what's up with all this talk of nothingness and somethingness?
Here's how Ibn 'Arabi puts it, presenting Islam in a refreshing non-dualistic fashion.
You cannot know your Lord by making yourself nothing. Many a wise man claims that in order to know one's Lord one must denude oneself of the signs of one's existence, efface one's identity, finally rid oneself of one's self.
This is a mistake. How could a thing that does not exist try to get rid of its existence? For none of matter exists. How could a thing that is not, become nothing? A thing can only become nothing after it has been something.
Therefore, if you know yourself without being, not trying to become nothing, you will know your Lord. If you think that to know Allah depends on you ridding yourself of yourself, then you are guilty of attributing partners to Him – the only unforgivable sin – because you are claiming that there is another existence besides Him, the All-Existent: that there is a you and a He.
Our Master, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), said:
He who knows himself knows His Lord
He did not say:
He who eliminates himself knows his Lord!
…That which exists and is visible is He. There is nothing but He, so how could nothing cease to be?
…Therefore, do not think anymore that you need to become nothing, that you need to annihilate yourself in Him. If you thought so, then you would be His veil, while a veil over Allah is other than He. How could you be a veil that hides Him? What hides Him is His being the One Alone.
Well, I still don't like the "He's" and "Lord's" in reference to Allah. But these are just ways of speaking. I mentally translate them into "It" and "Reality," which seems to be the sense Ibn 'Arabi is intending.
There's only One Thing Going On. It's all around us, and indeed is us.
No need for religion when there's nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to become.