Of Sufism, animals and grief

True Islam is more concerned with boundless compassion towards all beings that inhabit our world

Of Sufism, animals and grief


“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes back in another form”, said 13th century Sufi scholar Mavlana Rumi. His saying appears to be superficial, as if wishing to mollycoddle readers to blindly hope for some relief from their ordeal. This sort of consolation is something we offer people, without really meaning it, especially when they lose a loved one, a stable job or go through a break up. However, in the realm of Sufism, every emotion we experience in the world is interconnected, working in conjunction with each other. When grief sheds its lining, sweet gratefulness shall take its place, the belief being that God teaches people by the means of opposites, so that they may have two wings to fly with and not one. I got to learn this vital life lesson through an animal surprisingly.

When the time came for the cat to deliver, she gave birth to dead babies in the middle of the night. Soon after that, she stopped eating and died of, what I presume, a broken heart

For nearly two months, I had been looking after a pregnant stray cat that stayed on the same premises as I. For someone who lives on her own, the cat became my solace, a confidant of sorts and almost a family member. It gave me immense pleasure to watch her belly soar with unborn life (her kittens). For me, it was a sign of divinity at work. Visitors found it easy to rebuke me for encouraging and feeding a stray cat. In a highly class conscious and mildly caste conscious society, strays have no space. Beautiful Persian, Russian breed of cats costing thousands of rupees are deemed more worthy of affection, much like humans with more money commanding more respect in the community. The crux of Sufism, however, is to make room for all; outcastes were especially welcomed, given shelter and food from the langar khana of the Sufi saints. To me, the homeless cat came to represent the neglected strata of our society and through her I was practicing Sufism in my day to day life.

Dargahs such as Mian Meer in Lahore and the Misri Shah Ghazi shrine in Karachi often encourage patrons to feed resident pigeons, pearl millet or bajra packets are available with the flower and chaddar sellers for a measly sum. No one leaves empty handed from the Khawaja’s doorstep, not even the birds, and the tradition of nourishing the body and soul continues long after their death.

True Islam is more concerned with boundless compassion towards all beings that inhabit our world. There is also an Islamic fable, famous with Sufism adherents, that tells us about a prostitute who stopped by the well on a sunny day for a drink of water. Spotting a thirsty dog panting by the edge of the well she quickly filled her shoe up with some water and quenched his thirst. Her single act of mercy is said to have pleased Allah so much that he forgave all her sins. So who are we to withhold and compartmentalize pyar (love) when Allah himself is so benevolent?

The expectant stray cat at my residence was fed to the best of my providing capabilities, I would even tease her, nudging her from time to time that wasn’t she lucky to have a Maria Baaji in her life. When the time came for her to deliver, she gave birth to dead babies in the middle of the night. Soon after that, the cat stopped eating and died of, what I presume, a broken heart. Motherhood is a natural phenomenon and grief has been widely observed even in the animal kingdom.

I felt aggrieved, even angry, at her loss; there was a latent desire to have a fuller house even if that meant filling it with strays. Our generation has many friends and followers on social media yet we suffer from bouts of loneliness. Trust deficit is prevalent in the air; we may listen to heartfelt Sufi songs on Coke Studio but mostly live to seek validation from others through posts and pictures. This is why there is a widespread feeling of emptiness. I am never going to feed a stray animal anymore, it was a waste of my time, I cursed myself under my breath for having cared so much for a cat that wasn’t even mine. Bitterness took a hold of me, as it often does right after encountering any loss.

After mourning for a couple of days, I decided to bury whatever I was feeling and said to myself ‘time to get on with life’. Then one fine morning, exactly a week after the cat’s passing, another feline approached me at the mesh door as I proceeded to walk out. Her meows informed me of her hunger, I rolled my eyes and went back in to bring her some leftover chicken. As I followed her into the lawn, I saw that this new cat had moved in with her newborn kittens. There it was, my relief from God, he had sent more life to home, taking note of the whispers of my heart. I was then reminded of Hafiz’s poem,

“Tell me of another world,” the broken heart says,

one where love is never sad that it loved, and

the word sorry never comes to mind.

Show me dear God, that anything I have ever wept for

will return, will reside, in my arms.”

 

The writer is a freelance columnist with a degree in Cultural Studies and a passion for social observation, especially all things South Asian

 

 

Published in Daily Times, September 14th 2017.