The thoughts of Omid Safi

Our community group this year is listening to various podcasts and focusing on the meditation and reflection sparked by those podcasts.  If you’d like to follow along with us, you can check out my notes here on the blog each week.

February 14

Omid Safi is an American Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, where he is the Director of Duke Islamic Studies Center, and a columnist for On Being.  He shared this Easter reflection with the Nomad podcast back in 2015 and we wanted to listen to it this week for a couple of reasons…

  1. Currently there is much talk about Muslims in our country and we thought it would be insightful and interesting to hear and learn something from an actual Muslim.  These are Safi’s thoughts on Easter from a Muslim perspective.
  2. Lent begins in a few weeks.  Most years I realize that Lent is starting ON ASH WEDNESDAY.  Oh yeah, Lent!  Right.  What should I give up/do/take on this year?   We thought it might be helpful to start the wheels turning a few weeks earlier this year, in the hopes that more of us might grasp at the chance to consider our Lenten practices before Lent actually begins.  A novel concept.

Safi’s thoughts are just 15 minutes long so it’s a quick listen but he packs a lot into those 15 minutes.  Here are the things that stood out to me in particular that I will use to launch our discussion tonight…

Safi sees significance and import in both Good Friday and Easter Sunday yet also the day in between; that God is the God of the valley as well as the God of the mountaintop but also the God of the space in between those two things where we dwell most of our days.

We exist in the space between the womb and the tomb.
Not quite dead but not yet fully resurrected.

When he sees the world, he sees suffering in so many places.  He sees the suffering of a billion human beings who live on $1 a day.  He sees the suffering of millions caught up in war, the suffering of millions who live under brutal occupation, including in Jesus’ own Palestine.  He sees the suffering of millions of refugees, of women caught in sexist cultures, of minority communities the world over.  Suffering is global and universal.

He shared his admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and talked about how he marvels at the song Alone by Mahalia Jackson, whom King liked so much.

“Alone, alone, He bore the cross alone;
He gave Himself to save His own,
He suffered, bled and died alone, alone.”

Yet, Safi says, none of us suffers alone. The suffering of Christ then and there is connected to the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, Syrians, intercity Americans, grieving New Town parents, and HIV+ subsaharan Africans here and now.  Our suffering is connected because our humanity is connected in the “single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” quoting Dr. King.

He also spoke of Rumi’s belief that the figures of both the Koran and the Bible are not just figures of the past that we merely learn from but that they exist inside of us as well.  We each carry within us, for example, the tyranny of the Pharaoh and the prophetic of Moses.  

As a Muslim, Safi does not view the Easter story as historic, per se, but as symbolic (if I understood that section correctly).  He said that he sees the beauty inside and the relevance of the narrative and believes that the poetry of all of our daily lives can bear the fragrance of that story. There can be an Easter of our spirits, long-dead, brought to life.

He closed with a blessing:

May we meet the spiritually luminous souls whose every breath is efficacious like Christ…
may that healing, redeeming spirit rise now, each and every day,
and awaken in us the dormant spirit that is like a tender shoot
buried under the winter snow.

Past Weeks

The Prophetic Imagination (February 7)
Post-Inauguration Liturgy
 (January 24)
Is America Possible? (January 17)
Alternative Orthodoxy (January 10)

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