Fire and clay

Posted on November 1, 2011

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This past Sunday, I attended a SeekersCircle in my area (a halaqa sponsored by SeekersGuidance and the Ghazzali Centre with telecast lectures from scholars) which really spoke to my soul. We have been covering Al Ghazali’s Bidaya al Hidaya (The Beginning of Guidance), and most of the time, it is just emphatic reminders of things I think I secretly know inside but put off for some later time that I think I’ve been promised…or totally new things that make me feel like I’m totally mispracticing my deen. You know how Ghazali can be…genius that he was, rahimahullah. But this time, we got to the heart of the matter…diseases of the heart. The thing I probably most worry about because how do you know if your intentions are really in the right place? Sometimes they become all muddy and have many agendas all wrapped into one. How do you ever know if your heart is in the right place? And if it isn’t there, how can anything you do count?

Sometimes I’d like to be able to go to a spiritual doctor and get a diagnosis. You know, like a super shaykh! Like RasulAllah (saws)…(sighs), but all I get if I talk about this at the regular doctor is an offering of a pill for depression. And I reply, “No!”, I don’t need a pill…I need a cleansing of this dirty, dirty world that’s been all wrapped up inside me!

Sometimes I just want a straight-forward diagnosis on my own condition so I can know how well I’m doing in this kiln of a world.

Which brings me to an ayah we discussed at the SeekersCircle, one of the verses in the Qur’an where Satan says why he won’t bow down to Adam (pbuh):

[Allah] said: “What prevented thee from bowing down when I commanded thee?” He said: “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.” (Al A’raf 7:12)

Imam Afroz Ali took this ayah to talk about some of the diseases of the heart…we usually understand this ayah in terms of arrogance, but it is also the stem of racism, pride, hate. Just like when someone says, “I won’t respect him. I’m white; he’s black.” Or the other way around…It’s conceit…it’s self-esteem…it’s thinking of ourselves as better than others for some gift that Allah has given us. What’s wrong with being white? What’s wrong with being black? What’s wrong with being clay? What’s wrong with being fire? If Allah created you that way, be happy. Rejoice in it. And then strive to be better. Be the best kind of clay you can be. Don’t settle on earthenware, go porcelain.

I am of clay, and I used to be covered in clay everyday. It was my job to do so. And it was my favorite thing to do. I’d work with water to mold the clay. I’d work with air to dry that clay. And then I’d get right in there with the kiln and fire that clay. Make it stronger. Make it durable. Make it usable and almost shatter-proof. But you got to get those air bubbles out. You’ve got to get those diseases of the heart out to be shatter-proof, and then you can rejoice in the tests…the fire that’s thrown your way. Now I’m not saying I know how to get all those air bubbles out–I’ve got quite a few myself. But the Qur’an and the Sunnah is a good start…we’ve actually already been given the medicine. The Masterful Creator has given guidance to mankind. We just need to figure out how to apply it appropriately…and when we’ve got that down, we can refine ourselves into a beautifully glazed work of art for all to behold.

We created man from sounding clay, from mud moulded into shape (Al Hijr 15:26)

Du’a (May 2007), A 15" x 7" pedestal piece, this ceramic sculpture deals with supplication and more specifically, hands—a recurring motif in some of my work. The hands are life-size, modeled after my own hands, and take the form of a lotus flower...which you know grows beautifully in the mud.

  He created man from sounding clay like unto pottery, And He created Jinns from fire free of smoke: Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny? (Ar-Rahman 55:14-16)

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