An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Mindfulness Blessings: 1922 Breaking Bread with a Stranger on a Train to Jerusalem

In Food & Cooking on March 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 10.30.50Over this month I’ve been more conscious and attentive at the dinning table. Coming together to share a meal and to feed our bodies can also be a time to nourish our souls – by opening our hearts to create a field of loving kindness. I’ve come to appreciate the value and power of the spoken word at such times. My daughter, Fatimah Zahra, normally takes the lead and recites, ‘Bismillahi Rahmani Raheem’ – ‘In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful’. I’ve found myself reciting Bismillah out loud to centre myself every now and then as my mind journeys ahead of me. My daughter would be quick to ask, ‘Papa, why are you starting again?’ Something in my heart is touched with her innocent yet profound questions. She gives me a taste of gratitude as I value the presence of her soul in my life and being able to be a part of hers – as with everybody else around the table. Each word… Bismillah, Alhamdulillah, Mashallahseems to carry its own energy, and by sending it out we bless the moment and the (psychic) space we share together.

On reflection on how powerful words can be, the dhikr and invoking the Divine Name through sound potentially opens our hearts to the transcendent. Conversely, cursing or using words negatively may just do more damage than we realise. In the Solomon Islands legend has it that if a tree is too thick to cut down the shamans gather around it for thirty days to curse and shout at the top of their lungs to kill the spirit of the tree. After thirty days, the tree dies and falls over. There are children in the world who hear nothing but negativity, sometimes from their own parents. Shane Koyczan TED talk: “To This Day” … for the bullied and beautiful – is a wonderful example of this.

It’s a beautiful feeling to open our hearts at this time together, remembering our journeys in this world are finite and yet the Infinite is mysteriously present – always. Not as some distant Reality out there, but intimately linked with the state of hearts. In 1922 a Bedouin breaks bread with a stranger on a train to Jerusalem. Not knowing his religion, identity, history… but valuing his presence in the moment, they share together. The stranger was of course Leopold Weiss, later known as Muhammad Asad – translator of The Message of the Qur’an and ‘the first citizen of Pakistan’. The experience in itself had such a profound affect on Asad, he would later write:

When I now think of this little occurrence, it seems to me that all my later love for the Arab character must have been influenced by it. For in the gesture of this Bedouin, who, over all barriers of strangeness, sensed a friend in an accidental traveling companion and broke bread with him, I must already have felt the breath and the step of humanity free of burden.

Thanks to this single act of generosity by the Bedouin, we now have a wonderful translation of the Qur’an and an account of the author’s journey to Islam (Road to Mecca). I can testify to Bedouin hospitably. My first encounter was with Dr Najeh Abu Orabi, the head of Arabic at the University of Jordan. I was told that I should go and meet him by a friend in London who had studied under him. I expected to see an old man who taught in a tent but found instead a young man, probably in his forties, who just kept smiling and was delighted to see me. Later, while camping in Wadi Rum, Jordan, I had the wonderful opportunity of spending some time with Bedouins. The nights in the desert are beyond anything I had experienced before. I remember waking up before sunrise to a still night to experience a cool breeze and having no light except that from the moon. I was in complete awe and couldn’t help but pray. Later that morning, I sat with Bedouins around a fire as they boiled tea. I had learned enough Arabic to engage in basic conversation and they wanted to learn all about me. It was the communal gathering together that was touching. In Jordan one would often find families sitting together outside the mosque and on roadsides enjoying a barbeque – followed by smoking the Arabic pipe (sheesha/argheelay). Often those sharing a meal may sit around and eat out of one big tray. It’s an interesting experience to have, especially if you’ve been brought up your whole life to eat from ‘your own plate’. In a sense, I can understand why the breaking of bread by the Bedouin on the way to Jerusalem, and later the congregational prayer, attracted Asad to Islam. The communal gathering, sharing, and caring for each other has been a core characteristic quality of Islam from its very beginning. After communal prayer, I’m often touched by the way Muslims greet each other with the words, ‘Taqabbala Allah- mina wa munkum’ (‘May God accept it – from you and us’). In a mosque in Stamford Hill (Azizia Mosque), after the salawaat, each person greets the imam and stands behind him to form a line – and in so doing all greet each other.

So great a sweetness flows into the breast

We must laugh and we must sing,

We are blest by everything,

Every thing we look upon is blest.

William Yeats

  1. Greetings,
    What a wonderful post. Thank you!
    Just last night, I watched that great TED video featuring Shane Koyczan. I then shared it with my daughter.
    Thanks for sharing your experience of the Bedouin, and of sharing. The Yeats words are so nice.
    All good wishes,

  2. Most welcome Robert.

    The Bedouins are interesting people. They showed me how important it is to have open friendly dialogue without fear of judgement. Their hospitality is precisely because they extend their hearts and are informal. They’ll talk about anything. I was offered to smoke some of their weed and also to be married to a Bedouin girl provided I stayed with them!.

    Shane Koyczan’s poem ‘To This Day’ is just amazing. Reminds me of the power of spoken word poetry.


    • I would love to meet the Bedouins in the world one day.

      All good wishes,


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