SPIRITUAL RECONSTRUCTION

January 3, 2008

I post here a short essay published some years back in The Chicago Tribune Book section.

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Spiritual Reconstruction
By Ibrahim N. Abusharif

At the end of the summer, I spent a month in one of the most crammed cities on Earth, Cairo. There I helped edit a translation of a text on Islamic law that was written about 900 years ago by the great scholar Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. He is celebrated in Western scholarship and is fast becoming a kind of hero for those who dabble at Sufism in the English-speaking world. And it is from his name that the expression “Ghazalian experience” originates, a metaphor of modern coinage that refers to a drastic turn one makes in life that seems incomprehensible to family, peers and especially popular culture—when one utterly discards what others would traffic their souls for.

Not far from where I stayed—at a home on a plateau at the edge of the city—there is a long walkway from where one can see below the whole town and an oppressive dust cloud that hovers about it. At night, the view is clearer and sometimes spectacular. But to get to this lovers lane you must walk past elite villas and abject poverty with no dividing line between them: roosters, donkey carts and BMWs on one street; torn dirty cloaks and Donna Karan in the same pod.

At the walkway, indigent men and women squat peacefully in the middle of the bustle roasting corncobs over burning scraps of wood. Children play far too close to the edge of the rocky cliffs that drop in extreme fashion. Affluent bands of young men and women saunter and compete, it seems, to see who can laugh the loudest; otherwise, they sit in their cars quietly listening to Pink Floyd or Egyptian pop. Read the rest of this entry »