Key to the Garden

A friend of mine loaned me a wonderful book some time ago, Key to the Garden by Habib Ahmed Mashhur al-Haddad, a handbook for spiritual development. It is a short work, only about 150 pages, but so very beneficial. The Habib’s writing style is a pleasure too, even in translation. In every chapter, he begins his topic with selections from Quran, develops his argument with support from hadith and writings of other shaykhs, and then… concludes with a poem! The effect is quite moving; can you imagine how much more interesting your university coursebooks would have been with the same technique? Chapter 3: Ecology of Wetlands, followed by An Ode to a Peat Bog. Now that would be a well rounded education!

Two poems deal with proper etiquette in the remembrance of God, dhikr. Shaykh al-Haddad admonishes those who lose their self control in acts of remembrance, while affirming the right of those who are overcome with rapture. First, the admonishment:

A man lays claim to reverence
When his limbs are shaking;
His ecstasy turns to movements
And sometimes to leaps.

Everyone behaves like this
When in frivolous pleasure
So the opposites of seriousness
And play are the same!

By God! Had reverence
Truly dwelt in his heart
It would find peace
and he would bow to his Lord

Tears would have flowed
From his fear of his Lord
And he would have obeyed
The rules of true Adab.

So I left him, and followed them
In that which is easy,
Vast is the gulf which lies
Between truth and falsehood.

And the poem exonerating those who are overcome:

When I remember Thee I sway as though,
From the fragrance of the mention that is Thine
I have been poured a wine

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