Divine Names — A peaceful interpretation of Islam
London - As atrocities are being committed by extremist militants in the name of Islam, and terrorist leaders use erroneous justifications for despicable acts by twisting the meanings of Quranic verses, Muslim scholars are seeking to shed light on the peaceful aspects of a religion that has been tarnished by radicals.
Iraqi writer Rosina Fawzia al-Rawi, author of Divine Names: The 99 Healing Names of the One Love, focused on Sufism as a peaceful way of interpreting Islam.
Sufism is an element of Islam that is “a path that teaches us a way to discover our own self, our talents, our potential, and to find our own true reality and the miracle that we are,” Rawi says.
She succinctly explains the significance of the names of God in Islam from a Sufi point of view, assigning at most three pages to each name, such as Al-Rahman (The All-Merciful), As-Salam (The Source of Peace) and Al-Basit (The Reliever).
The introduction emphasises the importance of understanding the 99 names by quoting the Prophet Mohammad: “There are 99 names that belong to Allah, he who learns them, tastes them, understands them and can list them will enter Paradise and attain salvation.”
The importance of good deeds is a continuous message throughout Rawi’s work. She says: “To be truly pregnant means to carry kindness and mercy in your heart and to let all creatures become your children.” For someone to enjoy the full pleasure of having a child, she explained, they must love all of God’s creatures unconditionally, the way a mother loves her child.
Sufis are good to people because they want to be good to people, not only for the sake of entering heaven, Rawi contends.
Her argument was supported by Catholic priest Thomas Merton, whom she quoted in her book as saying: “The Sufis have ways of learning how to pray so that you are really praying in the heart, from the heart, not just saying words, not just thinking good thoughts or making intentions or acts of the will, but from the heart.”
In her book, Rawi encourages readers to understand why there is evil in the world. She says Sufis regard illness and disease as one of many ways that Allah chooses to transform us into better, more compassionate, integrated human beings.
“We must not worry about what will come, as fate is not in anyone’s control… Everything that is meant for you will come to you without fail, even if it has to go around the world in order to do so,” Rawi says.
She also encourages readers to really appreciate and value what they have or possess, stressing that “knowing (and acknowledging the fact) that nothing belongs to us leads us to enjoy everything that we have (even more).”
For Sufis, “God is the essence of gratitude so all creatures worship and praise Him, knowingly or unknowingly.”
The author challenges the conception that Islam restricts joy in life, stressing that “ego can lead us to do wrong while God guides us to avoid doing wrong, not with the intention to stop us from being happy.”
The best way to overcome the ego, she said, is through love: “Nothing conquers the ego as powerfully as loving mindfulness. Al-Muhaymin (The Dominant) should not restrict our joy in life; it should rather enhance it as our awareness of right and wrong deepens.”
Rawi also invites readers to look at the bright side of life. “Sufism attaches great importance to smiling because the smile widens and softens the heart,” she argues.
“The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: ‘When a human being looks at another with love, it is better for him than praying in the mosque for a whole year. Love of others is, hence, worth more than Muslim daily duties,” she added.
Divine Names offers a unique way of interpreting Islam under the name of peace. “Islam” means “peace” and “submission” in Arabic.
Practices such as five daily prayers, pilgrimage and jihad are over-emphasised when people hear about Islam. They tend to forget the core essence and most important part of the religion, which is love, Rawi says.
Rawi has been living in Vienna and teaching Sufism for more than 20 years. She puts on workshops in various countries and works particularly with women. Born in Baghdad and raised between Iraq, Lebanon and Europe, her teaching draws on a wealth of experience from a bicultural environment that enables her to build a bridge of understanding between different cultures, open a space where these can meet and thus contribute to peace.