Love's Labor Day Lost
Yesterday being Labor Day, I labored for most of it. So, fast forward to 6:00 p.m.
I had just returned my friend Jim Jung
's car, which I borrowed to go Kroger West (where I saw Councilman Steve Haynes
managing things). Jim and his wife Ruby publish the Waterman and Hill Traveller's Companion
, a local almanac full of facts and lore about nature. So I was riding my bike up Oak St. (training for Bike-to-Work Days, in case I have a job by then) right past the original Tekke
(or house for dervishes) of the Sufis (aka, Dayemi Tariqat, Inc.) led by the charismatic Sheikh Din Muhammad Abdullah al-Dayemi
(Dean), called Murshid
by his students and followers. I've known Sheikh Din for about 4 years. For about 6 months in 1998, I studied and prayed with the Sufis, and still count many of them as friends, including Murshid. There were 40-60 people in the driveway. So I pulled my bike up into the driveway, dismounted, and walked to the circle of chairs when Murshid motioned me over, and shook my hand warmly and invited me to get a plate of food. There was fried chicken and fresh garden vegetables (grown organically at the Sufi's Farm in Cobden) and corn bread and pie and watermelon and tea and coffee. I didn't eat much, because my ex-girlfriend was there, and I got butterflies in my stomach. (They may have been moths, I'm not sure.) I wish I had some of that chicken now...but Terry, who manages Dar Salaam
Restaurant, gave me some pie to take home at the end of the evening, so I can snack on that as I tell you more about . . .
An evening with Sheikh Din
"Are you gonna say we're a cult?" the charismatic sheikh asked a reporter from the Southern Illinoisan
as she was leaving. The reporter, whose name I didn't catch, was attending the Labor Day barbecue in connection with the Sufis new Majnun
CD Release Party, Thursday night. "No," she said, "just the CD." "Phew," gestured the funniest holy man this side of Swami Beyondananda
I could make this a really long blog about the first time I met Sheikh Din and how our relationship has transpired. I remember he really liked a press release I had written for a "Godstock" music festival (an idea whose time has past) in 1998. If I can find it on my other computer, I'll post it sometime, because the ideas expressed about ONE GOD are still sound, I think.
After the meal, evening prayer was announced (Muslims pray up to 5 times a day) and I joined the group in the basement of the house, where a small, but serviceable, mosque is set up. Before they moved the mosque to the old Tokyo Restaurant, it was where most services were held, and where I myself studied and prayed from the Koran. (Allah-hu Akbar.)
If you've never attended an Islamic prayer service led by Sheikh Din, you should--even if you're a Christian or a Jew or something else. City Council
should send a delegation to visit the Sufis. Carbondale Main Street
should form a special committee to send. A lot of people are curious and others are simply misinformed about the man and his followers, or find them standoffish and cliquish. (When they speak of "the community," they don't mean the rest of us, but themselves.) So maybe it's not a cult, but a clique. Even so, the religious service is undeniably powerful, with the musical chanting and the Arabic prayer. Call me an ex-Catholic-used-to-Latin, but I enjoy hearing ancient words repeated in prayer. In fact, that was why I originally wanted to hang out with the Sufis years ago: to hear and learn the Koran
in Arabic, since the English version (which I had read) doesn't do it justice. For Mohammad (peace upon) the verses were his message. He challenged the local tribal leaders to top his verse, arguing that if their religions were true, they could write something better. But they didn't have as good a "ghost writer" as Muhammad did. Sufism
is defined as a mystical branch of Islam, that uses chanting or dancing to get the endorphins of the brain to kick in
and a feeling of well-being. Joggers get the same feeling, though not as musically, unless they're wearing headphones. The ritual of the prayer is also reassuring. Everyone who attends religious ceremonies experiences the familiarity of their minister or rabbi, the ritual of the words and body motion. Stand, sit, kneel, whatever. Islam requires a very stylized form of prayer movement, that some say even has beneficial health effects, with the up and down and bending motions. A stairmaster and some sit ups might have same health benefit, but the spiritual and mental aspect would be lacking.
After the prayer, Murshid sits in the only comfortable chair in the room, while everyone else sits on the floor, or on less comfortable chairs. It's part of the tradition, a sheikh thing. Last night, he reminisced about the first time he met most of the people there, except a few newcomers, myself included, and his mother, who had a better memory of that event.
So if you live in or around Carbondale, and are interested in different religions, or just curious about what the Sufis do, then Murshid and his band of merry men and women will make you feel at home, and maybe even feel a little better than you did before you joined their company for however brief a time. And Murshid's band, Majnun
, will do the same this Thursday night, at Hangar 9. (see below, Weds. Aug 27, for details)
p.s. Although he didn't ask me what brought me back, I had two answers ready for everyone's amusement: 1) I was looking for a wife, and there are quite a few attractive women gathered there (attracted to Sheikh Din's attractiveness. ... How do you compete with a guy in a plush chair when you're on the floor? Answer: you don't!), and 2) I needed a hair cut.