Thursday, July 4, 2013


“Why the rush? Stay,” Shams said.  ” You seem to have come here to ask something. Perhaps I could be of help.”
I saw no reason not to share it with him.  “Well, there is this verse in the Qur’an that I find a bit hard to understand,”  I said tentatively.
Shams murmured, as if talking to himself, “The Qur’an is like a shy bride.  She’ll open her veil only if she sees that the onlooker is soft and compassionate at heart.” Then he squared his shoulders and asked, “Which verse is it?”
“Al-Nisa,” I said.  “There are some parts in it where men are said to be superior to women.  It even says men can beat their wives….”
“Is that so?” Shams asked with such exaggerated interest that I couldn’t be sure whether he was serious or teasing me.  After a momentary silence, he broke into a soft smile and out of memory recited the verse.
“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-laces and beat them;  then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.”
When he finished, Shams closed his eyes and recited the same verse, this time in a different translation.
Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them).  So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it.  As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing).  If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great.
“Do you see any difference between the two?” Shams asked.
“Yes I do,” I said.  “Their whole texture is different.  The former sounds as if it gives consent to married men to beat their wives, whereas the latter advises them to simply walk away.  I think that is a big difference.  Why is that?”
“Why is that? Why is that?”  Shams echoed several times, as if enjoying the question.  “Tell me something, Kimya.  Have you ever gone swimming in a river?”
I nodded as a childhood memory returned to me.  The cold, thirst-quenching streams of the Taurus Mountains crossed my mind.  Of the younger girl who had spent many happy afternoons in those streams with her sister and her friends, there was now little left behind.  I turned my face away as I didn’t want Shams to see the tears in my eyes.
“When you look at a river from a distance, Kimya, you might think there is only one watercourse.  But if you dive into the water, you’ll realize there is more than one river.  The river conceals various currents, all of them flowing in harmony and yet completely separate from one another.”
Upon saying that, Shams of Tabriz approached me and held my chin between his two fingers, forcing me to look directly into his deep, dark, soulful eyes.  My heart skipped a beat.  I couldn’t even breathe.
“The Qur’an is a gushing river,” he said.  “Those who look at if from a distance see only one river.  But for those swimming in it, there are four currents.  Like different types of fish, some of us swim closer to the surface while some others swim in deep waters down below.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” I said, although I was beginning to.
“Those who like to swim close to the surface are content with the outer meaning of the Qur’an.  Many people are like that.  They take the verses too literally.  No wonder when they read a verse like the Nisa, they arrive at the conclusion that men are held superior to women.  Because that is exactly what they want to see.”
“How about the other currents?” I asked.
Shams sighed softly, and I couldn’t help noticing his mouth, as mysterious and inviting as a secret garden.
“There are three more currents.  The second one is deeper than the first, but still close to the surface.  As your awareness expands, so does your grasp of the Qur’an.  But for that to happen you need to take the plunge.”
Listening to him, I felt both empty and fulfilled at the same time.
“What happens when you take the plunge?” I asked cautiously.
“The third undercurrent is the esoteric, batini, reading.  If you read the Nisa with your inner eye open, you’ll see that the verse is not about women and menbut about womanhood and manhood.  And each and every one of us, including you and me, has both femininity and masculinity in us, in varying degress and shades.  Only when we learn to embrace both can we attain harmonious Oneness.”
“Are you telling me that I have manliness inside me?”
“Oh, yes, definitely.  And I have a female side, too.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “And Rumi? How about him?”
Shams smiled fleetingly.  “Every man has a degree of womanliness inside.”
“Even the ones who are manly men?”
“Especially those, my dear,” Shams said, garnishing his words with a wink and dropping his voice to a whisper, as if sharing a secret.
I stifled a giggle, feeling like a littler girl.  That was the impact of having Shams so close.  He was a strange man, his voice oddly charming, his hands lithe ad muscular, and his stare like a crease of sunlight, making everything that it fell upon look more intense and alive.  Next to him I felt my youth in all its fullness, and yet somewhere inside me a maternal instinct sprawled, exuding the thick, milky scent of motherhood.  I wanted to protect him.  How or from what I could not tell.

The Forty Rules of Love ~ Elif Shafak.