This is the Word of God. If you recite
It before others, be sure that your voice
Is sweet and melodious: not mere noise
From an odious mouth drilled in despite.

Let the lips which shape His language of Light
Sing not just to sense, but weigh divine choice
Of syllable and word, whose divine poise
Holds the soul in its journey toward sight.

Many have fainted, hearing aloud these sounds.
Many have converted. Let me faint, too:
Let me feel His music as it resounds
In my deepest hearing, as it moves through
Sense, psyche, will and act. You who recite:
Make sound sing in my soul, till it takes flight.  

A Passage from the Qur’an
Rendered into English by Rafey Habib

God is the Light
Of the Heavens and of the Earth;
His Light is a parable, of
A lamp within a niche; without the lamp, a glass
Haloed as a brilliant star, lit
From an olive tree, blessed;
Whose soil is neither East nor West;
Its very oil would shine forth
Though untouched by fire:
Light upon Light.
God raises to His Light whom He will;
He engenders parables for men, He
Whose knowing is beyond horizon.

His Light abides in houses, sanctified
For the adoration of His Name. There
Is He glorified, morning and evening
By those whom trade nor profit can
Divert from remembrance of their God
Or steadfastness in charity and prayer;
Whose sole fear is for the Day
When heart and vision wake
In a new world
Where God rewards their deeds
Giving ever more from His Grace
For God furnishes measurelessly
Those whom He will. 

                                            Holy Qur’an XXIV. 35-38. 

Veiled Letters

Alif. Lam. Ra. These are the
Letters that will not yield. They
Stand like before and after,
The unremitting, unreturning

Face of time. Inscribed in
Uncomprehending hearts,
Unyielding faces, they are
The traces of eternity, returning

To language, overshadowing
Viewpoint and perspective
With higher harmony, notes
From sacred spheres, intoning

Veiled letters, trailing an
Invisible journey, trace
Of Otherness, whose sign
We read but cannot know.


In the far corners I sought you,
Of worlds which sing in our nearing;
Inside my own heart I fought you,
In sin that smiles, overbearing.

Let me see the blindness that comes
From light, the life that comes from death;
Let me know the sorrow that numbs
My body, to feel my soul’s breath.

Let me hear your voice in silence;
Let your shadow blind our pale sun;
Bring me to the End of ends, whence
Our souls can know what they have done.

Let the far corners show Your Name,
Lost amid shrines, feet searching through Night;
Let your brilliance nearing blind my shame,
Let my blindness live in your Sight.


Lord of the worlds, sanctify
My yearning;
Let the soul of my dream rise
To the morning of Azan;
From East and West let the minarets call;
Their music reverberate through both worlds.
Dusty echoes of a distant pilgrimage
Have crowned my hearing;
The past has resumed its tongue:
Ancient robes and words whisper on;
Forgotten martyrs gaze through memory;
Tradition has torn its silken banner:
Oppressed into myth, it soldiers in its need.

Sweet is your Name in this purity of desert;
Mirrored in the sea, echoed in the mountain;
The myth reclines under your shadow.
Night and Day kiss in your arms;
The chaos is touched with your language;
History robed in your meaning.
Far shores bewail their separation from You.


Piety clothes him as he rests his forehead
On the rug, in the deepest phase of prayer.
Since he was small, he was bowed in worship,
Not knowing what his words meant, or who was there.

And after all, they are not his words, passed
Down from ancient lines, family commands.
The moment of union, the focused love,
Drilled by submission, into vacant form.

There is a vacancy in his grey soul,
Greyer than the beard which marks his faith.
What one says no longer matters, mere rites
Through which we lose a right to speak.

It no longer matters, to him, if words
Which house ancient souls, ancient schools of law,
The thought of endless scholars and preachers,
Glide over his life, his deeds, like mist, like breeze.

Untouched, no word ever comes from his soul,
No thought to add to the old body of thought;
Just silence, as he breathes in, breathes out,
In rhyme, words that lived in another time.

The vacancy he has grown to live with,
Will die with: and the deeper emptiness,
The deadened fear that there is nothing, here or there,
Beneath words, rite, ritual prayer, silence, night.

And who will judge him if in his silence
He should mock the very Word he should love;
If, bound in the endless words of others,
His tongue cannot strive for the Word above.

Phantom Ship
(A Lament for Islamic Knowledge)

What treasure lay in her stores:
Volumes, limned with gold and red,
Farabi, Ghazali, frayed scrolls of old
Wisdom, Ibn Hazm, papyrus weighed yellow
Under age, and majesty of algebra, gilt-edged
In symbols; poetry pristine in slim
Calligraphy, philosophy embossed,
Circling out on golden page
Of Medieval gloss; astronomy, the
Heavens laid out in Arabic, myth,
Apothegm. What intellect, apostasy
Weighed down her sails.

Where did she go? Sailing
From the Eastern sun, on
Reddening seas, ploughing
Shadow of silver-grey, her journey
Just begun, when dark
Lightning struck her sail:
A thousand years
Ago, gazing upon
Al-Ashari’s face, she
Fled beneath the waves.

Forgotten, betrayed,
Her beams rotting, she
Dreams, from her depth,
Dreams of the
White surface.


It is all hidden, I know.
But it is not what you
Show to the world that
Shows you. It is the way
You show, the way you
Don’t quite hide beneath
Your scarf, your veil, a hair
Askew, hanging loose, as if
By accident or some hurried
Task or movement. And what
About those painted nails,
Both hands and feet, sometimes
Red and once dark green. And bangles
Too, and small gold anklets, as if
You were some fairy princess
About to dance, in some glass
Realm, where your nimble form
Could roam free. I won’t even
Talk of your lips, darkly rouged,
Perfectly poised, as if expecting
To open for some mythic visitor.
More thought, much more, went into
The tiny parts you are allowed to
Show than to those
You are obliged to hide.