An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Is He a Muslim?

In Education, Story telling on August 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Abu_HanifahCan Islamic philosophy be introduced to children to encourage debate, discussion, critical thinking etc as well learning some Islamic history? A question I hold. Maybe the following story cited by Dr Kamran Riaz on his blog* concerning Imam Abu Hanifa and his students, can offer some ideas.

“A man once came to the learning-circle of Imām Abū Hanīfah (may God have mercy on his soul) and asked the great Imam whether or not his neighbour was a Muslim. He asked the Imam that if his neighbour died, if he had to wash his body, bury him, and pray the janāzah prayer over him.

Imam Abu Hanīfah asked him, “Why do you think that he is not a Muslim?”

The man replied, “My neighbor says the following seven things, and because of this, I do not know whether or not he is still a Muslim. The first thing is that he says he has no imān (faith) in the signs of Allah that he sees. The second is that he says that he does not fear Allah. The third is that he says he does not have any hope for Paradise. The fourth is that he says he does not fear the Hell-Fire. The fifth is that when he prays, we see him praying without any bowing (rukū`) or prostration (sajdah). The sixth is that he says he eats meat that he already finds dead. The seventh, and last statement, is that he says that he doesn’t like truth (haqq) and he loves corruption/chaos (fitnah).”

The Imam smiled and looked around his circle of students and fellow scholars. He asked them, “What do you say after listening to this account? Is this man’s neighbor a Muslim?”… Read the rest of this entry »


Islamic Education as Holistic Education By Jeremy HT

In Education on August 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

splash-photo-sp-granada1(An extract from the report Contextualising Islam in Britain (phase 2) published in 2012 by the Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, compiled by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas. The extract is based largely on the presentation by Jeremy to participants in the project on Islamic Education as Holistic Education)

Participants discussed ways in which Islamic education can legitimately be said to converge with the broad rationale of holistic education emphasising the balanced development of human faculties. A comprehensive and integrated concept of Islamic education based on the worldview of Divine Unity (tawhid) ideally encompasses not only the instruction and training of the mind and the transmission of knowledge (talim), but also the nurture of the whole being (tarbiya),moral discipline (tadib), and learning from one another in the spirit of critical openness and respect for diversity (taaruf). The teacher is therefore not only a muallim, a transmitter of knowledge, but also a murabbi, a nurturer of souls and developer of character. The Islamic educational system has never divorced the training of the mind from that of the soul.i

It is worth noting that Read the rest of this entry »

Reading in the Digital Age by Saqib Safdar

In Education, technology on May 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm

This is not

the age of information.

This is not

the age of information.

Forget the news,

and the radio

and the blurred screen.

This is the time

of loaves

and fishes.

People are hungry,

and one good word is bread

for  a thousand.

David Whyte, “Loaves and Fishes”

Watkins Books LtdA good word is a charitable act.” Hadith of the Prophet Muhammed pbuh.

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity of visiting Watkins bookstore. I normally pop in every time I’m in central London. Established over a 100 years ago, it’s one of the world’s oldest bookstores which specialises in esoterica (mind, body & spirit). I have been visiting Watkins bookstore for over a Read the rest of this entry »

Theme: Technology and the Sacred

In Education, technology on April 27, 2013 at 8:40 pm

The internet is a tool that can help the consciousness of humanity evolve” Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Weapons of mass distraction or a sacred organ of consciousness? The theme ‘technology and the sacred’ explores the effects of television, computers, smartphones…on consciousness, child development, education and family life.

Sometimes a Man Stands Up – Reflections by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas

In Education, Food & Cooking on February 24, 2013 at 12:38 am
Sometimes a man stands up during supper

and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And other man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot

Rainer Maria Rilke

rainer-maria-rilke1This morning (Friday, 22nd February) there was a discussion on the Today Programme on Radio 4 about the fact that far more mothers read to their children than fathers. Although an excuse was made that many men come home too late after work to read to their children, the consensus seemed to be that this is something they should be much more involved in, not merely as a worthy duty, but because it was ‘fun’.

Reading to one’s children may seem rather tame in comparison to the  dramatic import of Rilke’s poem about a man who walks away from his house to find that ‘church’ in the East, but is it? Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes a Man Stands Up

In Education, Food & Cooking on February 21, 2013 at 7:43 am


Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.”
―    Rainer Maria Rilke

Please feel free to share reflections…

Theme of the Month: Time & Timelessness

In Education on December 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Somebody once wrote, children spell love as t-i-m-e. How do we spend quality time with our kids and as a family?  What is our relationship to time and how effectively do we use our day?  How important is routine for children and how important is it for activities to be scheduled at certain parts of the day?

Another reason to look at time is many readers of the Mayan calendar point to 21 Dec 2012 as a point at which we hit a singularity in time. Swedish scholar, Calleman, has done extensive research in the Mayan belief of nine Underworlds – each representing a different stage of consciousness. According to him, the Mayans prophesied that the Venus transit, 5-6 Jun 2012, would be the birth of a new world of consciousness, resulting in a timeless cosmic consciousness. Many other prophecies also point to this era.  Has 2012 been a strange or testing time for you? Shifts or transitions occurring?

To get involved or to contribute a post please email

The Tawhid of Tarbiyya — How To Bring Up Children By Sheikh Fadhlallah Haeri

In Education on November 21, 2012 at 5:29 pm

(originally published at

In this  wonderful talk (linked above) by Sheikh Fadhlallah Haeri, the wisdom and teachings of the Islamic spiritual tradition on parenting are explored.  SFH expounds upon the following saying of Imam Jafar al-Sadique (ra):

Leave your child to play for the first seven years, then teach him manners during the next seven years, then Read the rest of this entry »

In Loving Memory by Saqib Safdar

In Education on October 30, 2012 at 10:27 am

Among the many beloved souls that have passed on to the Unseen, the dearest of them to me is my grandfather. Although I remember meeting him only twice in my life, he had such a deep impact on me, to this day I am grateful for having met him.

Read the rest of this entry »

In Loving Memory by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas

In Education, parenting, Relationships on October 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Reflecting on who to write about as a source of inspiration in my life, I thought about  how tarbeyah  as ‘nurturing’ and breadth of education may embrace many dimensions: upbringing by parents and within the wider family, schooling, institutional religious education, the transmission of community and civilisational values, role models of all kinds, including historical exemplars, and  the guidance, inspiration and blessing provided by spiritual teachers.

Out of so many sources of inspiration, how to choose one in particular? Well, I’ll go for my late Read the rest of this entry »

Theme of the month: ‘In Loving Memory…’

In Education, Healing on October 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm

We are all touched by death of some sort. Whether it be death of our ego or physical death of the body. Without death there can be no life.

The theme for this month hopes to explore how we do, and how we might engage with experiences of grief and loss in relation to the physical death of the body, our relationship with those who have passed to the Unseen realm: our memories of them, how the connection with them has nourished us, and what we may have learned through them…

We would love to have you share your experiences and reflections with us on this subject.

How Should Children Be Taught To Count?

In Alternative Schooling, Education on June 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I once marked a diagnostic test and found an AS Maths student couldn’t do fractions. Concerned if he had chosen the right course, I asked what he got for his Maths GCSE. He replied A*. This was not uncommon. What seems to be happening is a strong foundation isn’t being built in some students. One only has to pick up a GCSE Maths or Physics book form the 80’s and see how watered down it has become over the years. So I ask how should children be taught to count and do basic arithmetic? This might sound like a basic question with a simple answer. However, its a question that I’m asking as I work with my six year old daughter and realise the way she is taught in school may not necessarily be the most suitable one for her. Read the rest of this entry »

We must set out to do a good job…

In Education, motivation on April 24, 2012 at 10:18 pm

I’ve just finished marking some homework. There’s always one student who puts that extra effort in and takes pride in their work. I was reminded of a Vietnamese student I taught a number of years ago who had a difficult personal history. She would put her heart and soul into her work! I ended up keeping her notebooks to show to other students.  While marking, I also couldn’t help think of Martin Luther King’s speech about doing a good job:

Read the rest of this entry »

Bart Conner & The Creative Ecology

In Education on April 9, 2012 at 11:21 am

His mother could have said Bart “could you stop it with the hands thing – we get it but the jokes over – could you get one with what you’re meant to be doing, you’re eight stand the right way up”. But she didn’t. She encouraged him.. She could not have known the life he was going on to have could she? Because it’s not like that. Life is not like that. I’m sure she didnt think Bart can do this hands thing, there’s this girl in Romania and I have a Bob Dylon album – it’s all lining up perfectly. If you invest in your own talent, you become somebody else and you live a different life and people come into you life that you wouldn’t have encountered and you affect their lives.  That’s how it is. There’s an ecology of creativity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing Children to Poetry

In Education, poetry on March 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

“A poet’s nature is a quest from the beginning to the end. He shapes and nurtures love and desires. A poet is like a heart; without him, the body of a nation is but a mass of dust. The world is made up of pain and desire, and therefore without them poetry is merely mourning. But poetry aimed at civilizing a people is in fact heir to the mission of the prophets.”

Iqbal, Javid Nama

Read the rest of this entry »

Muslim Schools in Britain: Socialization, Identity and Integration

In Education on March 4, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Dr Sadaf Rizvi, Institute of Education

Thursday 1 March 2012, 3.00 pm, Committee Room 1, Institute of Education


Integration of Muslim children and young people in the UK has been a contested issue. Debates around the construction of young Muslims’ identity and their educational experiences have even been Read the rest of this entry »

Indian Cinema on Parenting and Education

In Education, parenting on February 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm

If you’ve had an upbringing by Asian parents, the chances are you were given three options when you were young: doctor, lawyer or engineer. If you’re lucky, some may throw ‘accountant’ in there too. In some cases there is no choice and you’re steered into being what your parents would like you to be- especially if they happen to be from one of those professions themselves. This is a stereotype of course. On results day, a typical dialogue at the breakfast table may take form as depicted below in the BBC comic Goodness Gracious Me.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Experience of Waldorf Schooling

In Alternative Schooling, Education on February 7, 2012 at 10:51 am

I am part of an amazing, ‘weird’ family. I grew up in Mexico, spoke English at home (to my mothers credit), and had two very strong spiritual traditions in the family. My mother has always been involved with Sufism and my father is a Budhist teacher. So, while most of my friends went to catholic school on Sundays I got to learn about totally different paths in life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Becoming Spiritually Literate

In Education, metaphysics & cosmology, Religion on February 4, 2012 at 4:50 pm

On the mawlid today, the Prophet Muhammed’s birthday pbuh, I couldn’t help reflect on the first revelation he received while meditating, emptying himself, in the cave of Hira. He was met with the words

“Iqra”  (Read/Recite)

The Prophet was illiterate and so replied by saying he can not read/recite. Gabriel embraced him, as though imparting something to him, squeezed him and on releasing him commanded him again with the same word. This continued until on the third occasion five verses (signs) were revealed Read the rest of this entry »

Waldorf’s approach to child learning

In Education, parenting on January 29, 2012 at 10:35 am

By way of introduction,

I’m a Muslim born mother to two blessings, Ali (4 yrs) and Anas (2 in April) residing in Malaysia. I sought to live authentically and simply, and become less of me and more of an empty vessel made soft by love.

The call to start a family with my beloved husband lead my cautious nature to dive deep into that vast ocean of motherhood head first then heart. Searching lead me to attachment parenting and now Waldorf. Living in this modern world set adrift from the wise counsel of the past, a parent is in need of a Read the rest of this entry »

Could Television be Thwarting our Parenting Efforts by Rabia Saida Spiker

In Education, parenting on January 28, 2012 at 11:46 pm

When I was invited to contribute to this blog I felt a certain reluctance, because, frankly, I didn’t feel I was doing a particularly good job of spiritually parenting my own children. Really I can only describe myself as a slightly distracted parent, which I think in many ways has become the norm, and has therefore become socially acceptable and even expected. More than that- I wasn’t even sure what spiritual parenting looked like- I tried to give my children a taste of the spiritual by having them take part in dhikr and the prayer and having discussions with them about God and the universe- other than that I felt as long as I provided a safe environment, food, clothing and love, I was doing alright. I sometimes felt feelings of the inadequacy of my parenting and comforted myself that this was “good enough” parenting. After all, the last thing you need getting in the way of your parenting are feelings of your own ineptitude for the job. Frankly the exigencies of parenting had come as a surprise to me. My boys can be a real handful Read the rest of this entry »

Sharing My love of Waldorf Education

In Education on January 28, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Sharing my Love of Waldorf Education

I had never really paid attention to education until I had kids myself. I had gone through school myself, and did fairly well, so I didn’t think much about it. When I became pregnant with my first child, the kind of school we wanted her to attend suddenly became an interesting topic of conversation.  Mothering Magazine  published an article on Spirituality and Waldorf Education . I received a religious education, but not necessarily a spiritual one. I wrote to Read the rest of this entry »

Home Schooling, Montessori and Waldorf Steiner

In Education on January 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Which one?  Why? What difference has it made? This is an open post for students, parents and educators who have experience with alternative systems of education to state schools to share their stories. Please feel free to invite people to share their experiences, insights and questions. If anybody has experience with a Krishnamurti school that would be wonderful too. May I suggest, if you do contribute, you start by saying a little bit about yourself.



ps. You may wish to sign up to receive new updates via email for this blog or join us on facebook Tarbeyah-An exploration of spirituality in parenting and education

How much instruction do children really need?

In Education, parenting on January 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Meet the ipod generation: A friend of mine came over to visit with his family for the first time. Our families hadn’t met before. My daughter and his son needed no introduction. They both happen to have their parents iphones and sat next to each other playing away. So much for social skills?! Maybe that was supposed to be their ice-breaker activity. A teacher I know of said she is using her third iphone as the other two were broken by her two year old son. Read the rest of this entry »

Child Rearing Wisdom of the Native Alaskans

In Education, Mevlevi Tradition, parenting on January 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

While walking out the front door with my daughter this morning, on our way to school, I smiled. I remembered a quote from my friend Saqib, who said “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” by Robert Fulghum. My daughter asked me why I was smiling. I said I remembered a friend. She said ‘was it uncle Saqib?’ Its amazing how much intuition and witnessing children possess. The question is, to what extent do we work with it and to what extent does it get obscured over the years over through conditioning and neglect?

In her book, Black Milk, Alif Shafak gives an amazing account a period in her life when she went through depression and lost her one passion in life; Read the rest of this entry »

The number 40

In Education, metaphysics & cosmology, Spirit, heart & soul on January 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Today, while having lunch outside a cafe, I felt I had an experience of how the universe is set up to educate us. While eating I was reflecting on where I was a year a go. I was working in Jordan, lived in a bungalow, drove a nice care, had membership to a luxury gym, a maid to help with house chores and  enjoyed a break to the dead sea on most weekends.  Materially, I had it all. A year later, I dont have any of that Read the rest of this entry »

Rising From Failure

In Education, Healing, parenting on January 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Yesterday Mohammed Ali, the legendary boxer regarded as the greatest by many, celebrated his 70th birthday. I used to have a massive poster of him on my wall during my teen years. Hi motto of ‘fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee’ reflected a wisdom and intelligence which challenges the all or nothing approach taken by Rocky. What made him great in my eyes, wasn’t his amazing dancing skills in the ring which he seemed to have lost after being banned for five years due to his refusal to go to war in Vietnam or his success against opponents like Sunny Liston or George Foreman which experts had predicted as impossible, or even his wit outside the ring but the fact that he was able to Read the rest of this entry »

Cultivating good character in our children

In Education, parenting on January 16, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Many books seems to be available nowadays on developing character. There are even bed time audio stories, which for me seem like borderline hypnosis, about developing qualities such as confidence, leadership and social skills. Let me ask you a question. What is the number one quality you would like in your child? Read the rest of this entry »

Reading with curiosity and imagination

In Education, parenting, Story telling on January 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm

A few days ago, I was reading ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly’ with my daughter. Her first question was why did she swallow the fly? I didn’t have a straight answer. As the story progressed, I realised how meaningless it became for her. So we decided to take a trip to the library and borrowed a dozen books this weekend. The more I read with her, the more I realise the importance of  pictures and how each page serves for some potential discussion. Today, she was able to turn the pages back and link two different parts of the story together which I thought was impressive. Read the rest of this entry »

Becoming a Creative Minority

In Education, parenting, Spirit, heart & soul on January 13, 2012 at 10:43 am

From Teachers to Educators – yes, that is the challenge, as you so rightly say. The role of spiritual community is also so important, for tarbiyah is traditionally understood as the totality of the educational process in family, school and religious or spiritual community. But there is also another dimension, and that is what might be called self-nurture. To move from teaching to educating requires that we foster the ability in our children to learn for themselves through the awakening and activation of their own faculties. I have referred to many of these faculties in previous posts and comments. The modern schooling process does not generally provide the opportunities to do so, partly because few teachers understand what those faculties are, and the curriculum has been progressively stunted, de-humanized and de-souled. The possibility that children may develop them are further diminished by a profoundly destructive popular culture in which they are increasingly saturated.

Given all this, there is a temptation to withdraw from the ‘system’ altogether and that is of course what drives the rise in home-schooling. This is understandable in many ways, and there is good evidence that can be advanced to contest the belief that homeschooled children run the risk of being socially inept, unintegrated in wider society, incapable of forming friendships, and the like. Homeschooled children often develop a strong ‘individual self’ because they are not driven by peer pressure and demands to conform, and that sense of self then serves to protect them from becoming conditioned later in life. I have a good friend whose children went to normal state schools, but she refused to have television in the house. Instead, she provided a library of audio books over the years. They developed sophisticated listening skills, conversational awareness, and emotional intelligence (dimensions of education rarely fostered at school) even if they probably slipped out from time to time to watch TV with their friends! It was always a pleasure to visit them, sit around a table, and engage in wonderful discussions. Immersion in great literature certainly enriches these capacities. In drawing us into their narratives, characterization, and varied modes of expression, great works of literature help us to understand the human condition in all its richness, complexity and diversity. That process of exploration and identification help us to develop imagination and psychological and emotional maturity, and to learn empathy and compassion, as well as internalize a more finely attuned moral compass. The same applies to all the arts, creative and expressive.

As always, there has to be a balance, so that protecting children from corrupted systems and cultures does not become an over-protection which handicaps them. The great historian Arnold Toynbee had some important insights in his 12-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilisations (A Study of History, 1934-1961). Toynbee believed that civilizations arise by the response of creative individuals to challenges presented by situations of special difficulty and that advances in civilization occur when difficulties are responded to in creative ways that are internal and spiritual rather than external and material. There are two essential and separate steps in meeting a challenge facing a civilisation: the generation of ideas by the creative minority and the adoption of those ideas by the majority. If either of those two processes ceases to function then there is a “schism in the body social”, social unity is lost and the civilization breaks down. In such a period of social decay, people resort to Archaism (idealization of the past), Futurism (idealization of the future), Detachment (removal of oneself from the realities of a decaying world), and Transcendence (meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, as by a Prophet) which which can create a new collective spiritual bond or social order. Those who can provide such new insights become a ‘creative minority’ capable to transforming society and creating new civilisations.

So one of the challenges for us as teachers (whether as parents, institutional educators, mentors, or whatever) is to provide the means to counter the negative effects of schooling and cultural conditioning without falling into that radical pessimism and disillusionment which leads to what Toynbee calls Detachment (retreating to the forest, setting oneself apart, withdrawing from society).

From teachers to educators

In Education on January 11, 2012 at 11:10 am

Daniel mentioned in one of his comments, how he left teacher training at a secondary school because after trying to teach Shakespeare he felt he “was not educating the students in any real sense.” I remember attending a series of talks on Sufism and Shakespeare given by Hamza Yusuf and the late Martin Lings at the Shakespeare globe theater in London 2004. Dr Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj Udin), a Shakespearean scholar and Sufi master (considered to be a saint by many) held the view that Shakespeare’s plays contained an esoteric teaching and Shakespeare himself would have delighted in Sufism. Lings, 96 at the time, stood up unaided and talked for a few hours. His luminous presence was noticeable to many including Hamza Yusuf’s mother who too was in the audience. What I took back from those few evenings of lectures was a question. Is what I am doing (as a teacher) education in the original sense of the word? I saw in these scholars knowledge of tradition. A knowledge which they clearly embodied and lived.

Thomas Moore, author of Care of your soul, offers us a glimpse of what the future of education may be. One in which the arts and religion go side by side. Religion, as he explains, not as a belief system but as an exploration of meanings, values and a spiritual vision. This may not simply be about designing a new curriculum to be taught or new pedagogy to be introduced to make lessons more engaging. Teachers would have to be educated differently.

The arts are what humanise us and help us see our soul… Teachers would have to be educated very differently therefore. They would have to be educated in their person. They would have to be educated to develop into deeper, richer, more visionary people. We’re interested in a person who is going to teach and not someone who has a bag of tools.” Thomas Moore

How are such educators to be produced? This isn’t a new question. Allama Mohammed Iqbal (1877-1938) too was interested in educated reform for the Muslims of India and posed the same question for the Ulema (religious scholars) of his time. In a long letter to Aftab Khan, Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, who sought his advice on introducing a new faculty of Islamic studies, who wrote:

“Our first and foremost object should be to create Ulema of proper qualities who could fulfill the spiritual needs of the community. Please note that along with the change in the outlook of the people their spiritual requirements also undergo a change. the change in the status of the individual, his freedom of thought and expression, and the unimaginable advancement made by the physical science, have completely revolutionised modern life. As a result, the kind of ilm-i-Kalam and the theological understanding which was considered sufficient to satisfy the heart of a Muslim of the Middle Ages, does not satisfy him any more. This is not being stated with the intention to injure the spirit of religion. But in order to re-discover the depths of creative and original thinking (Ijtihad), and the emphasize that it is essential to reconstruct our religious thought.”

In a long ceonversation with his Pir (Guide) Rumi, Iqbal asks

“A stream of blood flows from the seeing eye because at the hands of modern knowledge Religion is tattered and torn. How can this be remedied?

In return Sage Rumi replies:”Knowledge used exclusively for material gains bites you like a serpent. But as a purifier of the inner self, it becomes your best friend’.

Iqbal, in his letter to Aftab Khan, adds “What is needed today is to apply ones mind in a new direction and to exert for the construction of a new theology and a new ‘ilm-i-kalam’… Your ultimate objective should be to gradually bring forward a group of such Ulema who are themselves capable of independent and creative thinking”.

In looking around me, seeing the challenges religion as presented in mosques (and churches) faces in the west, with the rise of new age spirituality which seems to address the new ‘spiritual requirements’ of people of the modern age more directly then religion as a belief system does- I do wonder to what extent religion devoid of inner meaning can serve the needs of those living in the modern times where the need for nourishing the soul is greater or how effectively they can prepare our youth for the challenges of tomorrow? In working with teenagers I have often seen a rise in ‘religiosity’ as a movement to gaining a stable identity, especially amongst first/second/third generation immigrants at a time when they are faced with questions presented by the media such as are you British or Muslim? Such religiosity is in my experience superficial and doesn’t reach or transform the soul. In terms of the Islamic tradition, I think Iqbal would have been delighted to see the Baraka Institute ( and the vision of Islamic spirituality it presents for the future. As to how we produce educators who are visionaries and people of depth to transform our education system is one to explore. I do feel spiritual community has a big role to play in the maturing process. What do you think?

may it be love

In Education, parenting on January 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Khalil Gibran

We live in exponential times. Fifteen years ago, mobile phones were the size of a brick, I didn’t know what an e-mail account was and we used an A to Z map to get to places. Who could have predicted what we carry around i our pockets today.  In another fifteen years the growth isn’t going to be as unpredictable. The path here inst linear but an exponential curve. It’ll be more unpredictable then we can currently, with all our technology, imagine. Yet, as Ken Robinson reminds us, we have to prepare our children for it. That question is on the minds of educationists and their desire to reform education from a model that’s rooted in the industrial age to one suitable for the information age. May be what is needed is not a reform but a complete transformation of education. Its interesting to see institutes, still dominated in hierarchical structures with managers still taking authoritarian approaches to managing people (by wanting to throw their weight around), are under pressure to use virtual learning environments, interactive whiteboards and online websites in their institutes to meet the government requirements and the growing pedagogical needs of their students. Students who take to collaborative approaches to learning  rather than the chalk-talk vessel filling approaches. What such institutes are asking for is a total shift in working culture for effective teaching and learning to take place; i.e to outgrow their old skins. “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:2.

Yet today, we as parents, face the similar dilemma -unless we can bend in His hands. I was reminded of Khakil Gibran’s words today when I tried to get my daughter to do something simple: To come and sit next to me so I can explain why Owais, her 1 year old brother, should be given 2 minutes on the computer. I realised she has a mind, heart and soul of her own and unless I am in tune and work with that, by being in tune and centered within my self, I may run the risk of obscuring, at the price of conformity, her original self.

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

I don’t know what the answers are about raising children for tomorrow. A tomorrow we can’t imagine with all the challenges it will bring. May be you do? (Please comment).  We may not be able to give them our thoughts, but we can give them our love – and our tradition is just that. If love is our center and the context for everything -then may be this essential timeless ingredient will hold us, transform us, enliven us and open our hearts to each other and to the Divine. In the words of Mevlana Rumi

Love is from the infinite, and will remain until eternity.

The seeker of love escapes the chains of birth and death.

Tomorrow, when resurrection comes,

The heart that is not in love will fail the test.

Ashq Olsan – May it be love

What gives rise to creative thinking?

In Education, Spirit, heart & soul on January 9, 2012 at 12:25 am

I once read a book on the psychology of creativity. The author mentioned some outstanding creative minds from Virginia Woolf, Bach, Gauss to Einstein. However, there was one individual who was said to defy the whole spectrum of creativity and described by leading theoretical Physicist, Michio Kaku, as ‘the strangest man in all of science’. He was the Indian Mathematician Srinavasa Ramanujan. His outburst was truly unique – producing 4 to 5 new equations everyday. He was a person ahead of his time, born in 1888 in an India he produced equations which are being used in string theory today. He died at the age of 33 of TB and it is said during the last year of his life, the work he did on his death bed, was equivalent to the life-time work of a genius. What made him ‘strange’ was, in my opinion, two things:

a) He was self taught and couldn’t attend university because he failed in every subject accept Mathematics. He spent hours sitting crossed legged with a slate and chalk, playing with equations he learnt through an old text book, rediscovering a century or so of Western Mathematics on his own. As a result he lacked understanding of basic themes which qualified Mathematicians would take for granted such as a constructing and providing a proof. So strange were his equations however, that when presented to leading Mathematicians of his time they were dismissed or not understood. He later was invited to Cambridge by Hardy to complete his formal education.

b) The other thing that would make him strange in the scientific community is his claim as to how he produced the equations: He would say the Hindu goddess Namagiri whispered equations into his ear. He recounts a number of dreams in which streams of equations are being shown to him. He would then wake up and write down what he would remember. Ramanujan was certainly a mystic who was interested in the symbolic meanings of numbers and wound often engage his friends in deep conversation into the early hours of the morning on such topics.

Not every passionate Mathematician turns out to be a Ramanujan or necessarily makes a creative breakthrough in their field. Einstein had problems with Mathematics, which delayed his general relativity, but he did create a paradigm shift in our view of the universe (which was initially rejected by the scientific community as nonsense). So what gives rise to creativity? As Jeremy reminded us creativity at this highest level is a connection ‘with any awareness of the objective significance of universal symbols’ which would gives rise sacred art for example and at its lowest form it is, one may say, devoid of meaning, stillness and in many cases beauty. What I would like to explore is the domain between the highest and lowest modes of creative thinking.

My father was a talented teacher. Through practice and experimenting over the years, he also turned into a good cook. I wish I could say the same about his experiments with plumbing. He didn’t produce works of beauty but I would classify him as a creative thinker. He would for example go to sleep with a problem in his mind and often in the early ours of the morning he would wake up inspired, usually though a dream, with a solution. That was his method of problem solving. Medina, in her comments on ‘Is Imagination more important than knowledge’ raised an important point about silence and the need for it in our children’s lives. A deeper intelligence seems to work its way when the mind is silent either in sleep or through activity such as walking, playing music or mediating for example. This inner silence gives rise to beauty and creativity as Eckhart Tolle explains

Because we live in such a mind-dominated culture, most modern art, architecture, music, and literature are devoid of beauty, of inner essence, with very few exceptions. The reason is that the people who create those things cannot – even for a moment – free themselves from their mind. So they are never in touch with that place within where true creativity and beauty arises. The mind left to itself creates monstrosities, and not only in art galleries. Look at our urban landscapes and industrial wastelands. No civilization has ever produced so much ugliness.” He goes on to say All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.”

Yet, for creative thought to arise, it is necessary to have a vehicle prepared for it or have as Jeremy mentioned a mastery of the subject. Having access to that inner stillness may not necessarily lead to creative breakthrough as Tolle further explains “ You can touch that place also, within, and it may not flow into creativity, because you have not developed a vehicle for it. The very same power that gives rise to creativity can also manifest itself in different ways that we would not call creativity. It could be a healing power that comes into effect the moment you enter into relationships with others. Healing in a wider sense, not just physical healing. You will not suddenly become a great musician if you have never touched an instrument, just because you touch that place within yourself. It’s not going to manifest as a great scientific discovery in my case, because the vehicle is not prepared for that. My mind is not prepared for that. It doesn’t even work that way. So for me to expect to come up with the Unified Field Theory that Einstein didn’t come up with – he tried after the theory of relativity, he tried for the rest of his life to come up with that – I am not going to come up with that. It’s very unlikely. The vehicle has not been prepared. I am not going to be a great pianist, because I don’t know how to play the piano. So no matter how deeply I go within, it’s not going to flow into that. You need to prepare the vehicle for creativity.”

One way of being still may well be through the inner energy field of the body. Some meditation technique involve a body scan using ones attention for example. Some mystics see the ascension of Jesus (and other prophets) being through the body as a pointer to the transcendent realm being accessed through inner body and not through denial of it. Budda was said to have achieved enlightenment when he gave up fasting. Other methods of accessing stillness may involve movement such as tai chi or whirling as Kabir Dede explains.

My own experience has been, as I currently understand it, when the state of consciousness rises in its vibrational frequency, new modes of thinking evolve and old thought patterns fall away. As we become more empty, something higher works it way through us. Sitting in sohbet (spiritual discourse) and opening to the the emptiness in the heart space is a beautiful example of this. What arises can often be spontaneous, inspired and a reflective mirroring of the listener’s unconscious- be they a group. The Quaran reminds us of emptiness

“And when you have been emptied strive onward,

and to your Sustainer turn with longing.

(Surah Ash Sharh, The Opening- Up of the Heart 94:1-8)

Medina, in her comment, also mentioned taking walks and touch (hugging) can encourage a sense of calm and an appreciation of silence. What else can parents do to bring stillness into the lives of children of this (digital) age?

Jeremy Henzell-Thomas on ‘Is imagination more important than knowldge?’

In Education on January 7, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Yes, the imagination is so important, and is so undervalued in our current schooling systems.

Let me add something to get us to consider what we mean when we use words like ‘imagination’ and ‘knowledge’.

Firstly, there is evidence form work on creativity that suggests we should be careful about setting up a dichotomy between knowledge and the creative imagination, as if they are in some way mutually exclusive.

“Creative Imagination” in its highest sense (and in the sense understood by Ibn ‘Arabi, the Shaykh Al-Akbar) is the capacity for symbolic understanding, the spiritual perception which unveils the hidden realities behind and beyond observable signs and ‘similitudes’ (Arabic amthal). It needs to be distinguished from the lower levels of ‘creative imagination’ associated with those forms of subjective ‘imaginative’ artistic exploration which may not be connected with any awareness of the objective significance of universal symbols. The ultimate contrast here might be between a great work of sacred art and a ‘conceptual art’ installation such as a random display of bricks on the floor of a gallery (I once tripped over such a display in the Tate Gallery many years ago, not realizing that it was the latest piece of ‘modern art’) or a more recent exhibition in Paris of a whole room full of completely blank canvases (which drew a crowd of art-lovers earnestly discussing their ‘significance’).

Jean Houston puts it well when she speaks of “the importance of teaching-learning communities in stimulating, supporting and evoking each other’s highest sensory, physical, psychological, mythic, symbolic and spiritual capacities.” In such a community, she says, “education is an adventure of the soul in which our personal themes become joined with those of universal reality.” The transcendent function of creativity is also beautifully expressed by Joseph Conrad: “All creative art…is evocation of the unseen in forms expressive, enlightening, familiar, and surprising.” (The Qur’an is, of course, “a Book for those who believe in the Unseen, Al-Ghayb). As such, the highest level of creativity is the discovery of the “due measure and proportion” in the divine imprint of the Creator (Al-Khaliq), the unveiling of the unseen, for “God is forever making hidden things manifest”.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the nature of creativity. The most common one is that there is a necessary tension between existing knowledge and creativity, that creativity is necessarily iconoclastic and based in originality or novelty, a reaction to the past. This is part of the individualistic tendency, derived from misconceptions too about the nature of genius, which seeks to divide humanity into creative or noncreative individuals, geniuses or ordinary folk, musical and unmusical people, and so on.

Some research in the field of cognitive psychology suggests that the ability to do creative and innovative work depends on deep knowledge and mastery of a chosen field, often involving an initial phase of imitation of existing models. There is an excellent section on the value of memorisation in Jean Houston’s Jump Time, which shows clearly how the genius of Shakespeare was grounded in the memorisation culture of Elizabethan England. Imitation, too, was another formative practice in that era. “One studies a great piece of writing by one of the acknowledged giants of the past, enters into a process of internalisation – an alchemising through one’s own life and experience – and then creates a poem of other work that is unique to the writer yet has similarities to the original. This practice enriches one’s ways of thinking, depends one’s ability to allude to other forms, thickens the soup of one’s mind.” The best schools will use imitation of great models this way, and not only in literature, but also in art and music. It is important to realise that this is not unthinking imitation, mere reproduction or mechanical copying. It is using a model to catalyse the creative process.

Mapping the early development of Mozart, improvisation skills in jazz musicians, and the Beatles has shown the absolute importance of rigorous practice as a prerequisite for the development of true creativity, as opposed to what I would call the “bogus creativity” based on the self-delusion that mastery can be bypassed.

Thus, one view of creative thinking is that it is the result of direct application of a body of knowledge which has been mastered and internalised. This “application” may occur after a long subconscious process has digested the material. Many are the examples of scientists who have had the experience of a new and revolutionary insight bursting into consciousness after such a period of deep internalisation. But the point is that they have done a lot of work in amassing a body of knowledge which acts as the ground of such inspiration (personal revelation).

Unsubstantiated opinions are not the same as valid inner perceptions. True knowledge is based on two sources, as the Qur’an reminds us: divine revelation (which can also be authentic inspiration) and the evidence of our own faculties. The latter serves also to validate the truth of Revelation, and strengthen our faith, which has nothing to do with ‘blind belief’.

It is only when we examine the situation from outside that we feel the necessity to postulate basic differences between creative and noncreative individuals. It may not be necessary to assume that creative individuals differ from the noncreative in any significant way, except for the knowledge they possess. The Qur’an advises us: ‘Can they who know and those who not know be deemed equal?’ At the same time, the verse continues that ‘only those who are endowed with insight keep this in mind.’ The Arabic word here translated as ‘insight’ is albab, that inner faculty of knowing centred in the heart (lubb). So the Qur’anic vision of ‘knowledge’ is of course multi-layered, and its deepest locus is indeed in the Heart.

But once again, we should not set up a dichotomy between heart and mind, as has happened in Western culture. The Arabic words fu’ad and ‘aql refer to a composite faculty of mind-heart, and also encompass an ethical and spiritual dimension. As always, Islamic spirituality is centred on Divine Unity (tawhid), on holistic capacities. That said, it may be necessary at some point in one’s life to apply a strong corrective and throw some baggage down the well, including most (or all) of one’s books! But in the case of Mevlana, it’s worth remembering that he was a great scholar when he did so. In the same way, as Saqib reminds us, Al-Ghazali had a similar crisis, realizing that direct perception (tasting, dhawq) was the only way to spiritual certitude (yaqin), but he too was a man who had gained a degree of knowledge from conventional sources.

As in all such questions, the key is to follow the guiding principle of balance (mizan). One should not give pre-eminence to either the creative imagination or knowledge, but seek always to provide a corrective when disproportionate emphasis is given to one over another. That is what I understand also by the Qur’anic statement that “we are a community of the Middle Way”. This does not mean unchallenging mediocrity or an arid compromise, but refers to the Golden Mean, that sacred point of balance.

I once had a recurring dream as a small child. I was driving a chariot through the skies, drawn by two horses, one black and one white. It was a hard job to balance the two horses, and the chariot would veer off to the left or right depending on the way I pulled on the reins. Even minute adjustments in pressure seemed to have major consequences in driving the horses off course. I persevered during many of these recurring dreams, and there came a moment when the perfect balance was achieved. The result was momentous. Suddenly a cosmic energy seemed to take over from me as ‘driver’ and the chariot swept upwards and forwards through the heavens with boundless grace and energy. I no longer needed to operate the reins.

Balancing black and white can mean many things, but perhaps for the purpose of this post, it might mean not seeing in terms of ‘black’ or ‘white’, or ‘either/or’, that polarizing and dichotomizing tendency in the human brain.

Teaching: the art of mutual investigation

In Education, Mevlevi Tradition, Spirit, heart & soul on January 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm

When Rumi met Shams of Tabriz, they say two oceans met. What took place was a sort of mirroring process in which both helped each other to deeper realms of the soul.  Does this historical meeting hold any significance for us? An interesting quote from J.Krishnamurti may throw some light here

How can the educator help the student to understand the story of himself, which is the story of the past, of which he is the result? That is the problem. If you are the educator and I am the young student, how would you help me to understand the whole nature and structure of myself – myself being the whole of humanity, my brain the result of many million years? it is all in me, the violence, the competition, the aggressiveness, the brutality, the cruelty, the fear, the pleasure and occasional joy and that slight perfume of love.

How will you help me to understand all this? it means that the educator must also understand himself and so help me, the student, to understand myself. So it is a communication between the teacher and myself; and in that process of communication he is understanding himself and helping me to understand myself.

It is not that the teacher or the educator must first understand himself and then teach – that would take the rest of his life, perhaps – but that in the relationship between the educator and the person to be educated, there is a relationship of mutual investigation. Can this be done with the young child, or with the young student? in what manner would you set about it? That is the question.”

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed working in education is I get to learn. I see the education process as much about the teacher learning about him/herself as it is about the student’s development. Children are amazing beings and such clean mirrors. They can push our buttons, make us laugh, make us cry, help us pray, give us hope, remind us of the Divine, fill our hearts with gratitude, help us extend our boundaries and maybe most importantly give us a taste of love.

I have met some extraordinary students over the years. Some very talented others extremely diligent. Some very happy others with many personal problems. All have helped me as a teacher in some way. As a teacher, I feel, its very easy to lose the ‘beginners mind’ in the identity of the one who is more learned. That isn’t to say one doesn’t instruct, direct, guide or facilitate as a teacher. But in the process one is always alert, attentive and receptive to both what arises outwardly and inwardly in the teaching-learning dynamic. If I am not too tiered, one way that helps me to be open and centered is to be present in the present moment. One way to define presence, I was taught, is ‘the awareness of awareness’. Other than my own children, who catch me off center every time, one student who would easily stop the teacher monologue was an autistic student who I will not name. He was very bright and had scored an A* for his GCSE. His writing was all over the place. He would often irritate many of his teachers by repeatedly asking a simple question ‘why?’ He seemed to have little self awareness and wasn’t bothered by what others thought of him. Much like Socrates, he would take those who thought they knew to a point where they didn’t know.

The mirroring process in a spiritual context is a little different. I experienced this with a Dervesh I met in Istanbul. I had been with him on a 11 day journey. On the 10th day, something opened up inwardly. There was a moment in which our eyes touched and our hearts knew that which the tongue could never express. There was only deep silence and knowing. We helped each other see that which is both beyond us and in us, yet could not have known on our own.

Is imagination more important than knowledge?

In Education, Mevlevi Tradition, parenting on January 2, 2012 at 9:30 pm

“Why is it that in creative writing courses today, the very first thing we teach students is write what you know. Perhaps, that’s not the right way to start at all. Imaginative literature isn’t necessarily writing, who we are or what we know or what our identity is about. We should teach young people and ourselves to expand our hearts and write what we can feel”. Elif Shafak

The paragraph above has give me, somebody who thinks in pictures, numbers and symbols, the courage to set up a blog and write. As a parent I feel. I feel authors like Elif Shafak, who have immense levels of creativity, have much to teach us and remind us through their imaginative story telling. But how are we to expand our hearts and express what we feel. I must confess I was poor at both verbal and written expression until I sat in sohbet (spiritual discourse). I don’t claim to be particularly good now but I think I’ve improved a great deal. The first thing Kabir Dede asked us to do when to speak was not worry about grammar or sounding eloquent- “speak from the heart” he said. For his own teacher, Suleyman Dede, didn’t know any English nor did Kabir Dede speak Turkish. Yet they got by; teachings were transmitted, hearts understood and souls were cooked. In sohbet students are asked to listen non-judgmentally with presence. Isn’t that amazing? listening opens up a space both inwardly and outwardly! Mevlana Rumi reminds us of the importance of listening:

“Since in order to speak one must first listen,

Learn to speak by first listening”


Today I found my daughter having a wonderful conversation on her toy phone with a police man. I listened attentively, as she used words I didn’t know she knew. She ended with “bye now, you too”. I asked her what she was talking about. She said she was phoning the police man because, Owais, her younger brother was being naughty.

Later I reflected on this incident and I realised what an active imagination children have. How much of it gets nurtured and how much gets covered by ‘things they are supposed to learn’ which has its place too but often at a price. Ask a class of year 7 if they can ‘explain what it feels like on the moon?’ and a dozen or more hands go up. Put the same question to year 11 and less then half a dozen. What went wrong in those five years? The goal of secondary and sixth form teachers nowadays is, from my experience, to create independent learners and thinkers. May be a way to start is give space to their inquisitive minds and imagination while they are young. How can we expects kids to be creative if they’re imaginations haven’t been given its due importance? Didn’t Einstein devise his theory of relativity with thought experiments such as ‘what the would the world look like if I sat on a beam of light?’ To complete the quote on imagination “Imagination is more important that knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand”. Albert Einstein. .

Recognising an old soul

In Education on January 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

My daughter has a number of characteristics of my late grandmother which we cant explain. She would, for example, sleep with a bottle of water next to her and often wake up in the middle of the night to take a sip. This is something my late grandmother was in the habit of doing- both never met (physically). That’s not what I’m trying to point out though. What I intuitively feel is my daughter’s innate capacity to know. On some level, she knows everything that’s been taught to her. I feel with some things, such as religion or the symbolism of sacred acts, my duty isnt as much to teach or explain but to show. That showing, God willing, will feed her soul.

I experienced this when i took my daughter to a zikr session with some derveshes. At first she was shy, but later she responded to the love, adab and presence she felt. She won every one’s heart. She was her beautiful self ; the face she always had before she was born was eminent – that unconditioned part of herself came out in that space of unconditional acceptance. I wonder if religion can be taught this way? less instruction or explanation and more presence and witnessing; planting seeds to sprout in the years to come which, God willing, like for al Ghazali, awaken in the soul a yearning to know for oneself.