Two fragments from the cover of a notebook of mine. First, a short verse on the scholarly life, lifted from the epigraph of Makdisi’s Rise of Colleges:

ذكا و حرص و افتقار و غربة
و تلقين استذ و طول زمان

Intelligence, longing; poverty and a foreign land
A teacher’s instruction; the long stretch of time

Jawaini of Nishapur

And one that is, I think, from the Moroccan Sufi Abu Madyan; it’s scrawled on the cover of one of my notebooks without an ascription:

النفس عزت و لكن فيك ابذلها
و القتل مر ولكن في رضاك حلا

The self* is dear, yet I slay it in You
And being killed is bitter; but in Your pleasure, sweet

*(An-nafs conveys both the sense of ‘soul’ and of ‘self,’ anima and ego; in Sufi thought and practice, overcoming the ‘lower soul’ or self in the apprehension of God is a primary goal. The dying of the self is obviously a term deeply resonant in Christian practice; likewise, the studied ambiguity about one’s relation to the self/soul exists in both traditions. St. Augustine is, I suppose, the most marked exponent of this tension, in which there is a proper ‘self-love’ and an improper one, so that loving one’s self is, for St. Augustine, a necessity, yet only in so far as it is properly directed. Paradoxically, the highest love of self would be the abnegation of the self in a Christ-like self-humbling and self-offering to God. In a similar manner, Sufism seeks a self-destroying abnegation in God, yet one in which the self is still there- even for someone like al-Hallaj, the nafs remains even in the closest union with God. Still, it is always an ambiguous thing in Sufi texts, as the soul/self is consumed utterly while the author still maintains a self-existence (if not self-awareness) and distinction between Creator/creation.)

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