Searching for the House of God, Chapter 67, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books

There is a raw intuition, a reductionism, a fundamental illumination, simple and basic like the proof of life, the engagements of love, and the devotions of belief that pervades this Conference.  I often ask, why this singular pursuit of beauty -- basic and amorphous as Divinity?  Are there measurements, detachments as irrefutable as numbers that could define the search for beauty?  Isn’t this Conference and its core belief in beauty a reductionism as crude as intolerance, essentialism, and purity?


And, yet, I know that existence, and consciousness like time and numbers are adamant constructions, real but unreal.  Even mathematics and equations hold true only if you believe.  There is no one plus one, but legions that engage legions – there are convictions that restore convictions with stone faced commitment and belief.  This cramp and pain I feel in my hands is a wonderful affirmation of faith, believed in my mind, projected to my hands, but my very mind is a conviction not a reality.  Is there really skin that I can touch or cells bonded by a purpose, a sense of mission, commitment, and belief?  All my intimate realities are descended from my mind, and the reality of my mind descends from the reality of God.  I am as real as God wills me to be.  It is this reductionism that empowers me to see that God is the non-contingent and immutable reality.  My belief in God is simple and fundamental and yet this does not mean that God is reduced to essentials.  The presence of God is beauty, but the product of this beauty is an overwhelming complexity.  Like a trail left behind, and like the consciousness that demonstrates life, beauty is the presence of God – my consciousness is incapable of extracting ugliness from Divinity. 


Are there detachments as irrefutable as numbers that could define the belief in God?  Yes, if you are willing to believe in equations of consciousness and love, and if you are able to believe that beauty and morality are but computations.  Otherwise, you must be content with the commitments of the mind that conceives, defines, and believes affinities and associations.  Even reason makes sense only to those who believe in reason. 


The essence of being is the mind, and the essence of the mind is God.  What is filtered through the inventions of the mind could be measured by the mind, but what created the mind is beyond an objective realization.  We objectify what we create, but we touch the Creator only with the humility of subjectivity.  What I know as a matter of consciousness and love is the presence and absence of God, and in that sense, only good and evil are real; everything else is a figment of my imagination.  The beauty that is God, and the ugliness that God is not, are realities perceived through the subjectivities of the mind, but all else are fictions susceptible to objectification.  God and beauty, like the truth, cannot be objectified, but they also cannot be invented by the mind.


My friend, I see you sitting in the forgotten corner of the house of God, a bundle covered by clothing crowned with a mind.  Has the serenity of the house of God escaped you, or is it at times hard to find beauty in an abode exploited by human beings?  You wonder if a structure that aspires to be a mosque is pervaded by anxiety, is it still the home of Divinity?  Or, are these Islamic centers dispersed in the land nothing more than fiefdoms ruled by self-declared nobility?  Doctors, engineers, computer specialists, bubbling evangelists, and technicians of piety, bearded and unbearded, have set themselves up to dabble in the game of divinity.  Each center a mosque, and each mosque a suzerainty where the potentate can try his hand at playing king.  Here again, you crouch in the prayer area of an Islamic center with the difficult and ambitious goal of coming and leaving in dignity.  I will confess to you that even I now enter every center in the grip of anxiety.  All I want is to be able to enter and worship without instructions, directives, commands, or without relinquishing my autonomy to some custodian of divinity – to enter and leave in dignity.  I recall, my sister, once I entered a center, and found literature on a table near the front.  As I flipped through a pamphlet, a servant of the custodial majesty set upon me and promptly grabbed the pamphlet from my hand, and barked some irrefutable commands.  If I approach a center, I anticipate to be told from which door to enter, how to sit, how to wash, how to pray, and how to breathe.  May God forbid that you desire to distribute literature or hold an unauthorized class or attempt to teach!  The truth is that over each Islamic center and its mosque sits a little despot nursing the plagues of his insecurities, and what better way to nurse these afflictions than to pretend that God owns the manor and that you are God’s deputy?  Every lord of these fiefdoms believes that the fate of God’s message hinges on their delivery.


But this is me, my sister, and your problem is much bigger and more serious.  Your problem is not only fiefdoms and despots, but also the banishment away from the realm of consciousness.  Here, in this center, there is a wall separating existence from oblivion.  The space called the women’s section is accessed through the door of fitnah (seduction)--the gateway to irrelevance.  Once you enter through the door you are indubitably branded as a seductive danger.  Inside you can neither be addressed nor heard – if you listen carefully you will catch the echo of the yammer of men coming as an uncontestable contention.  Here, in this house of men, the women’s bathroom is locked because a good woman would do her ablutions before coming to the mosque, and a better woman would pray at home and keep her seductions away from the house of God.  Is there a more profound statement of alienation than to claim that the best rows of women are those that are the farthest behind or that the best spot for prayer is the most secluded and dark?  If you venture beyond this isolation, then every man becomes the guardian of confinement, chasing women into a prison constructed from the walls of modesty.  


Such is the nature of autocracy; it feeds on nothing but power, and breathes nothing but anxiety.  The nature of despotism is to objectify God and beauty into a quantifiable sum, but once quantified God and beauty could be realized and rendered an irrelevancy.  It is this objectification that allows the despot to obfuscate the boundaries between himself and God and beauty.  In the fiefdoms, intuitions, feelings, thoughts, claims, and complaints of people do not count.  After all, how could they count if beauty is measured, quantified, and realized and so all challenges are an irrelevancy? 


My sister, my subjectivity – my convictions tell me that the reality of the house of God is beauty.  But if my subjectivities find that anxiety and degradation prevails in a house, I suspect that I am not in the house of God, but a human fiefdom, and I continue the search for what I know is the Divine reality.